Black Trial Edges Closer to Jury

By: The fraud trial of fallen press lord Conrad Black and other former officials of Hollinger International Inc. moved close to going to a jury Tuesday as the defense concluded a week of closing arguments and the lead prosecutor pressed a last time for guilty verdicts.

U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve prepared to give instructions to the jury, setting the stage for deliberations to begin Wednesday after a 31/2-month trial featuring some 40 witnesses and thousands of documents.

Wrapping up an estimated 25 hours of closing arguments by defense lawyers, the attorney for ex-Hollinger corporate counsel Mark Kipnis portrayed his client as an innocent outsider who made a "bad mistake" in neglecting to seek approval from Hollinger's audit committee for $9.5 million in controversial management fees from newspaper sales that are at the heart of the case.

Kipnis did nothing illegal and did not help create a paper trail to cover up the payments as the government alleges, Ronald S. Safer said.

"Not his finest moment, but certainly not a crime," he told the jury.

The government, Safer said, has failed to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt that he was part of any scheme, that he intended to cheat anyone."

Black and two other former Hollinger executives, John Boultbee and Peter Atkinson, are accused of swindling the media company out of more than $60 million through the sale of community newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. Kipnis is accused of helping to arrange the transactions. All have pleaded not guilty.

Lead prosecutor Eric Sussman said as he began his rebuttal to the defense that he would not apologize for calling David Radler as a witness even though he is "a criminal" and a liar.

"We didn't pick the star witness," he said. Wheeling around, he then pointed at the defendants one by one and said "Conrad Black picked him .... Peter Atkinson picked him .... John Boultbee picked him."

Black, who sat impassively and twiddled his thumbs during the morning session, looked away with a disgusted expression as the prosecutor singled him out.

Radler, Black's longtime partner and second-in-command of Hollinger International, has pleaded guilty to the alleged scheme. In return for his cooperation and testimony at the trial, he expects to get a lenient 29-month sentence.

The former Hollinger newspaper empire, which once extended to large dailies in Canada, London and Jerusalem, now consists of the Chicago Sun-Times and about 100 community newspapers in the metropolitan area. The company has been renamed Sun-Times Media Group Inc.


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