Lady Black Won’t Apologize to Reporters for ‘Vermin,’ ‘Slut’ Tirade

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Barbara Amiel Black wouldn’t admit to some harsh words she allegedly used to describe a journalist covering her husband’s fraud trial, but did say Tuesday that some remarks were made in a private conversation about reporters “who know who they are.”

Amiel Black was reported Monday to have allegedly referred to journalists at Conrad Black’s high-stakes fraud trial as “vermin” and to have called one TV producer a “slut.”

“It was a private conversation with my stepdaughter and I’m not going to confirm or deny those words,” Amiel Black told the media Tuesday as she and Black entered a Chicago courthouse for his criminal trial on fraud charges.

“They were about specific journalists and they know who they are, said the former newspaper editor and columnist. “And I am here for more important things, I really am.”

Black declined comment as he made his way into the downtown Dirksen building, where opening arguments in his trial on fraud and racketeering charges was expected to begin after a jury-related delay Monday.

The confrontation made a splash in some British media outlets, including the Independent and the Telegraph. The website thisislondon.co.uk gave a colourful account of the incident, describing how Amiel Black’s “insult echoed around the 20-storey building.”

The incident came shortly after Judge Amy St. Eve delayed the trial and Black’s defence lawyers raised concerns that news of a settlement by the media baron’s former partner David Radler — a key prosecution witness — may taint the jury’s views and are interfering with Black’s right to a fair trial.

St. Eve planned to swear in the jury and start with the prosecution’s opening statement but postponed the trial to Tuesday. Unconfirmed reports said a juror did not arrive in court and could not be reached in time.

On Friday, Radler — Black’s former top executive in the Hollinger group – signed a $28.7-million settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, a deal that will also see him barred from being an executive or director of a U.S. public company.

Then Sunday night, a second $63.4-million settlement was announced with Sun-Times Media, the new incarnation of Hollinger International, that settled claims against Radler related to backdated stock options when he was chief operating officer at the company.

Radler has already pleaded guilty to fraud and has agreed to testify against Black in the criminal case in return for a lenient jail sentence of 29 months and a $250,000 fine.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Cramer was expected to lay out the government’s case Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege Black defrauded shareholders and used money from the Hollinger International newspaper group to cover extravagant personal expenses. The charges centre on the sale of hundreds of community papers and $85 million in “non-compete” payments allegedly pocketed by executives of Black’s former newspaper empire

Black is charged with wire and mail fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, racketeering and obstruction of justice.

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