Judge: Conrad Black Jury Can Hear From Co-Conspirators

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A federal judge gave prosecutors approval to put co-conspirators on the witness stand to tell inside details of former media mogul Conrad M. Black’s role in an alleged $80 million fraud scheme.

U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve ruled Tuesday that federal prosecutors had shown a conspiracy more likely than not existed within the Hollinger International publishing empire and thus they could use such testimony against Black.

The testimony is likely to include that of F. David Radler — Black’s former top aide — and dozens of others tangled in the complex matter. Radler now is cooperating with the government and is expected to be the star witness for the prosecution.

Testimony concerning what a defendant said generally is considered hearsay and prosecutors generally are barred from presenting it to jurors.

But hearsay evidence from co-conspirators is allowed if prosecutors can prove a conspiracy existed. The idea is that the only way to prove the case is with testimony from someone on the inside the plot.

The Black case is doubly complicated because no one is charged with conspiracy — but the government is saying a conspiracy existed anyway. Prosecutors asked the court to allow such testimony on that basis.

But St. Eve stopped short of giving prosecutors blanket permission to use co-conspirator testimony, ruling some statements out of bounds and saying she would rule on others once the trial gets under way.

Jury selection begins March 14 in what is expected to be a three-month trial of Black, former Hollinger chairman, and three others.

They are accused of illegally accepting payments from companies that bought hundreds of community newspapers in the United States and Canada that were owned by Hollinger. The payments were in exchange for promises not to compete with the buyers in markets where the papers circulated.

Prosecutors say the payments should have gone to the Hollinger shareholders and not into the pockets of the four defendants.

Black also is charged with making shareholders pay for a lifestyle that included a Park Avenue apartment and a South Pacific vacation.

Among other things, St. Eve said “the government has identified ample evidence that there existed an agreement to defraud (Hollinger) International through a series of non-compete payments” that went to the defendants that should have been paid to the company.

“An agreement to defraud International through the abuse of perquisites” also has been established by the government, she said.

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