Judge Rejects Long Delay for Conrad Black’s Fraud Trial

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

A “frustrated” federal judge on Friday refused to grant more than a seven day delay the criminal fraud trial of former newspaper magnate Conrad Black and others accused of plundering Hollinger International, the publishing company of the Chicago Sun-Times.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve denied a last-minute motion by three of Black’s co-defendants to delay the start of the trial scheduled for March 7 in Chicago for an additional 60 days. She granted only an additional week, settign the new trial date at March 14th.

Black and three other former top executives at Hollinger — Executive Vice President Peter Y. Atkinson, CFO John “Jack” Boultbee, and General Counsel Mark Kipnis — have all pleaded not guilty to charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud charges for the alleged theft of more than $80 million from the publishing company through improper fees, contracts and payments.

Attorneys for Atkinson, Boultbee and Kipnis argued they had been “inundated” in recent months by documents from federal prosecutors. The attorneys said they had received some 365,000 pages of documents just since November 3rd.

“Judge, we cannot physically investigate all these documents in the time we have been given,” said Black’s U.S. attorney Edward Genson, who joined in the motion in court.

Federal prosecutors argued that most of the documents are simply duplicates of documents previously received by the defense. Assistant U.S. District Attorney Eric Sussman said prosectors were passing documents to the defense only out of “an abundance of caution.”

Judge St. Eve said the trial date had been set more than a year ago with generous deadlines to deal with documents and discovery.

“I have to say I’m frustrated,” St. Eve said. “Every time we are [in court] I remind you of the trial date.” The fact that the case has generated massive numbers of documents is no cause for delay, she added.

“I know this is a complex case, but everybody knew that up front,” St. Eve said. “Everybody knows there are going to be a lot of documents.”

Sussman mocked the idea that the defense, which includes firms with hundreds of lawyers, is overwhelmed by the number of documents. He noted that the former Hollinger, the allegedly looted publishing company now know as Sun-Times Media Group, is paying for all the legal bills of some of the defendants.

“They can throw all the lawyers they want at this thing,” Sussman said.

Also in Friday’s hearing, the prosecutors formally charged Black and his co-defendants with income tax evasion. All pleaded not guilty.

Black, wearing a blue suit and a yellow tie, was relaxed and smiling at the hearing. Before the proceedings, he exchanged a handshake and a joke with Atkinson. At previous hearings the two had seemed to studiously ignore each other.

Ravelston Corp. Ltd., a Toronto-based holding company now in receivership, had earlier pleaded not guilty to racketeering, mail fraud, money laundering and tax charges. Ravelston was one of the holding companies Black used to control a worldwide newspaper empire that once included the Daily Telegraph in London and the Jerusalem Post. Hollinger International last year changed its name to Sun-Times Media Group to reflect its present holding of the Chicago daily plus about 100 other Chicago-area dailies and community papers.

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