Conrad Black surrenders to prison in Miami

Fallen Canadian-born businessman Conrad Black returns to prison on an obstruction of justice conviction following a media blitz to promote his upcoming book and maintain his innocence.
Conrad Black and his wife Barbara Amiel Black listen to attorney Miguel Estrada as they leave federal court in Chicago June 24, 2011, after his sentencing. Black surrendered to prison in Miami Tuesday. (Associated Press)

Fallen Canadian-born media tycoon Conrad Black surrendered at a U.S. federal prison in Miami Tuesday to serve out the remainder of his sentence on an obstruction of justice conviction.

Black, 67,  had been released from prison pending an appeal in Chicago, which was denied on June 24. He was ordered back to jail by Judge Amy St. Eve, who set the Sept. 6 date for his surrender.

Black spent the past few weeks on a media blitz to promote his forthcoming book. He maintains his innocence, after spending more than two years behind bars at Coleman federal prison in northern Florida.

It hadn't been known where Black would be sent for the final stretch, which could last anywhere from six to 13 months. Reports indicated it wouldn't be Coleman, because two employees who testified as character witnesses against him during the appeal were unhappy at the prospect.

The Miami correction institute is described as  a low-security facility housing male inmates about 50 kilometres from Miami. The prison handbook says inmates are allowed three showers a week with five hours of recreation.

Convicted of obstruction of justice and fraud in 2007 in a Chicago court, Black served 29 months of his original 78-month sentence. 

Conrad Black uncut

Listen to Matt Galloway's full interview with Conrad Black

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some of his initial convictions, citing a misuse of the "honest services" provision of the U.S. fraud statute, he was resentenced in June and ordered to serve 42 months. However, he is receiving credit for time already served.

The new sentence could be reduced for good behaviour, and Black told CBC recently that he expects to serve less than eight months behind bars.

In a 45-minute interview with Matt Galloway of CBC Toronto Radio's Metro Morning recorded Aug. 2 from New York City, the former Hollinger International executive called his return to prison a "temporary sacrifice."

"It’s not physically dangerous. You get visitors. You can use the phone. You can use the email. Some of the people, many of the people, are quite interesting. They're all tolerably friendly. So I wouldn't want to overstate it. It’s no country club," Montreal-born Black said.

"It’s quite Spartan, and you are subject to the authority of unskilled labour frequently masquerading as figures of much more natural or earned authority than they actually possess," he said, referring to prison guards and officials.

The interview was recorded before the launch of his next book, A Matter of Principle, on Sept. 15. He said the book, completed mostly during his first prison stint, presents his version of events.

Wants to return to Toronto

"I tried to be fair, I tried to admit error by, you know, on my own part where I felt there was some, and there was some," he said. "The main point of [writing the book] it is to assault, in as violent and persuasive a manner as possible, this absolute fraud that I would ever, or did, break the law."

Black also talked about the possibility of eventually getting back the Canadian citizenship he renounced in 2001 to take a seat in the U.K.'s House of Lords.

He said he wants to return to Toronto, because that's where his wife, journalist Barbara Amiel, lives, but he won’t try to get his Canadian citizenship right away. He owns a home in Toronto.

"I can see quite clearly, looming larger every day, the end of this horrible sequence of events."

The CBC interview was conducted before the release of a Vanity Fair article interviewing him and Amiel that is on newsstands this week. In the article, Black discusses his life behind bars, including cleaning toilets and being subjected to body-cavity searches, and the "alliances" he made with fellow inmates, some of whom were in the Mafia.

Much more to come

"What I’ve been trying to do the last eight years [while fighting the charges against him] is to deduce, at a very fundamental level, what is the message of all this?" he said. "I don’t doubt that I am a humbler, more sensitive person now that I have experienced conditions with which I’d had little experience. I’ve worked hard to find something meaningful."

People who have followed Black's long and colourful career in business and the courts fully expect him to return to his old self — full of articulate self-confidence and strong opinions. As a writer, historian (biographer of Maurice Duplessis, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon), and as businessman, litigant and convict, he has few if any equals.

"I think you're going to see a combative Conrad Black and he's going to do what Conrad has always done, which is make headlines and do it his way," Chicago lawyer Andrew Stoltmann, who has long followed Black's case, told The Canadian Press.

Jacob Frenkel, a former SEC enforcement lawyer and watcher of the Black case, said if Martha Stewart can make a comeback, so can Black.

"He's not going to vanish off the public stage," Frenkel said. "Our western society tends to applaud those who have been broken and rebound."