Prosecutor 'content' with Black verdict, but defence says grounds for appeal
The U.S. prosecutor at the helm of the Conrad Black trial said his team was "content" after the former press baron was convicted of obstructing justice and mail fraud on Friday.
"I will simply say this: He was charged, he's now a convicted felon — convicted for very serious fraud charges and convicted of obstructing justice —and I'll leave it at that," said Patrick Fitzgerald, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
"I don't like using words like 'victory,' to treat it like a basketball game … but we're very content."
Black was on trial for 13 chargesrelated to millions of dollars in non-compete paymentshe received from the sale of Hollinger newspapers in Canada and the U.S., which prosecutors said should have gone to shareholders.
Prosecutors are seeking a sentence for Black of 15 to 20 years.
Black's Canadian lawyer, Edward Greenspan, offered few comments when he left court in Chicago.
"We intend to appeal and there are viable legal issues," Greenspan told reporters.
"We vehemently disagree with the government's position on sentencing. We believe, based on the conviction of the charges here, the sentences for this type of offence are far less than what the government suggests," he said.
Later, inan interview with CBC News, Greenspan said theywere "astounded"by the 15- to 20-year sentence sought by prosecutors.
"Having been acquitted of all the major charges … we thought it was insane to suggest that kind of sentence," he said.
He put a somewhat positive spin on the outcome, sayingBlack was acquitted onnine of themost serious charges and in a very strong position for an appeal.
"You can never be pleased unless there's a complete vindication," he said,when asked about his legal team's performance at the trial."But when you look in terms of what the charges were, that on the nine main charges, the jury absolutely disbelieved David Radler and the jury absolutely disbelieved the audit committee, I'd say we did quite well."
Radler, once Black's top lieutenant in his newspaper business, agreed to plead guilty and serve a 29-month sentenceas part of a deal with prosecutors, for whom he was the star witness.
Greenspan said he told Black that "as disappointingas this is for all of us, it should not be so disturbing as to forget that we are in a very very good appellant position."
U.S. lawyers feel Black could serve up to 10 years
Some lawyerswho watchedthe trial believe hecould wind up serving as many as 10 years behind bars.
The obstruction conviction carries a maximum imprisonment term of 20 years, while each fraud conviction carries a maximum of five years.
Hugh Totten, a lawyer with Chicago firm Perkins Coie, believesthe former Hollinger International CEOcould be sentenced to about 10 years.
"Under the way we operate in this country now, you have to serve 85 per cent of your sentence. It isn't like what David Radler will be serving in Canada," he said.
"I predict a sentence of three to nine years," said U.S. securities lawyer Andrew Stoltman. "Assuming it's less than 10 years, he's going to have the opportunity to go to a 'club fed,' or a minimum-security prison."
John Gallo, a former U.S. prosecutor, said both the prosecution and the defence will submit proposed sentencing guidelines to Judge Amy St. Eve. He noted that the sentencing guidelines are usually much narrower than the maximum possible sentence.
Gallo said the sentence will be based heavily on the amount of loss that occurred as a result of the convictions.
The obstruction and mail fraud charges carry a maximum monetary fine of $1 million US.
John Hueston, a former U.S. prosecutor who worked on the Enron case, said the case against Black was not easy for the prosecution, and that was reflected in the jury's struggles.
"I think that the defendants came very close to getting a full slate of acquittals," he said.
The government's case rested on the "very shaky foundation" of David Radler, he said, adding that prosecutors are trained to present more than one key witness.
Hueston said the trial turned on the video of Black unloading boxes from his downtown Toronto office.
"That's a badge of fraud, the kind of thing that an American jury wants to see, to show you that: 'You know what? This is not what your common business does. This is what a crook does. We're now comfortable returning a verdict of guilty.'"
Susan Powell, a U.S. jury consultant, agreed the video footage of Black and a personal employee loading boxes intohis car was damaging.
She also said that a jury can get very angry when they perceive that shareholders of a company have been unfairly treated.
Black biographer George Tombs saidBlack's relinquishing ofhis Canadian citizenship to become a member of Britain's House of Lords was a major mistake.
Tombs said it is unlikely that Black, who is now a British citizen, will be able to get his Canadian citizenship back or, if the former media mogul receives a prison term, willbe able to get a transfer to a Canadian facility.
"I don't thinkConrad Black has as many political friends now as he used to," Tombs said. "He's not in a very strong position at the moment."