Black 'dodged a bullet' with lenient prison term: observers

Some observers say Conrad Black, who was sentenced to 78 months in a U.S. prison on Monday for swindling shareholders of Hollinger International out of millions of dollars, was handed a light sentence.

Some observers say Conrad Black, whowas sentenced to6½ years in a U.S. prison on Monday for swindling shareholders of Hollinger International out of millions of dollars, was handed a light sentence.

"I think he's really dodged a bullet here," said Rick Caine, director of the 2004 documentary Citizen Black.

Newspaper columnist Peter Worthington told the CBC's Fred Langan that the American justice system was "pretty lenient" with Black.

Prosecutors in the case were asking U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve for a prison term of 19 to 24 years.

The maximum Black could have received after being convicted in a Chicago court on three counts of fraud and one count of obstruction of justice was 35 years.

But St. Eve chose a low sentence for Black, 63, who could have facedup toeight years in prison under sentencing guidelines determined earlier Monday.

Andrea Chun, adefence lawyer in Toronto,told CBC News the U.S. prosecutors in the case must be feeling disappointed, given the lenient sentence. But Chun said the judge was sending a message "that this kind of dipping in the tray, if you will, cannot hold."

In addition to his prison term, Black was also fined $125,000 US.

Other observersthoughtBlack's prison term was harsh.

George Tombs, author of Robber Baron: Lord Black of Crossharbour, said Black has always prided himself on being a master strategist,an intimate student of power on a grand scale and a life-long admirer of the United States.

"He's been proven on a global scaleto bea poor strategist,who doesn't have a realistic view of power," he said. "And he's been convicted and sentenced today to what I think is a very stiff term… It's a very, very tough day for Mr. Black, indeed."

Richard Siklos, author of Shades of Black, describedBlack's punishment as "quite devastating.

"That's a long time in anyone's life," he said.

Black willgo tojailin March

Black will be out on bail until March 3, when he has to report to begin his sentence at a facility at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, which U.S. lawyer Hugh Tottendescribed as a "low-security" prison camp.

Some speculated that prison life would be a stark change for Black, who could be out after serving 85 per cent or five years of his prison term.

"I think given the lifestyle that he's been leading, the drop-off is going to be so immense for him, it'll be shocking," Caine said.

Worthington believes Black will do splendidly.

"If he gets his wish, he'll soon have that minimum-security prison under control," he said. "For all we know, he'll become the next Jeffrey Archer,"a former British MP who served time for perjury and was alsoa bestselling author.

Caine concurred, saying he'll adjust because "he's resilient.

"Once he's out, he'll reclaim some public space," he said. "His life is still an unfinished story here."