Conrad Black's Fate Now In Hands Of Jury

By: E&P Staff Federal jurors in trial of Conrad Black got their first look at the dethroned newspaper magnate on a crisp, blustery day in March. After nearly 15 weeks of testimony that never lived up to its pre-trial hype, the jury began deliberations on a warm and humid afternoon on Wednesday.

The jurors listened to some 50 witnesses in the trial of Black and three other former executives of the Hollinger International Inc. accused of stealing some $60 million from the publishing company in phony non-compete fees from the massive sell-off of community papers in the U.S. and Canada.

In his final statement, prosecutor Eric Sussman insisted that the government's star witness was not its best known -- former Chicago Sun-Times Publisher David Radler, who turned state's evidence in exchange for a lighter sentence in a plea bargain -- but newspaper chain publishers such as GateHouse Media CEO Mike Reed, who testified he never asked for a non-compete agreement.

"Follow the money," Sussman told jurors. He said the defense argument that the buyers requested the non-compete agreements was false. "It's the company's money," he said. "That's what they are taking."

In six days of closing statements, lawyers for Black and his co-defendants -- former Hollinger vice president Peter Atkinson, former CFO John "Jack" Boultbee, and former company general counsel Mark Kipnis -- hammered away repeatedly at the credibility of Radler, who admitted he lied to the government and shareholders as part of what he said was a scheme to pocket the non-compete fees.

Radler -- who testified for six days in May -- began confidently, but in the opinion of many courtroom observers withered under the cross-examination by attorneys who repeatedly called him a liar.

Just before the case went to the jury, prosecutors dropped one count of filing false corporate tax returns against Atkinson. Like the others, he faces several counts of fraud and filing false tax returns. Black also is charged with obstruction of justice and racketeering.

Hollinger International, which once published hundreds of papers in three continents, is now know as the Sun-Times Media Group in recognition that its holdings have been reduced to the flagship Chicago Sun-Times and about 100 Chicago-area daily and community papers.


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