Conrad Black felt the warm light of freedom for the first time in two years wearing a T-shirt, jogging pants, sweat socks and deck shoes.
Lord Black left a Florida prison early Wednesday afternoon just hours after a close friend put up $2-million (U.S.) for his bail. The former newspaper baron jumped into the back seat of a black SUV, glanced in the direction of a couple of journalists and headed south to his ocean-front mansion in Palm Beach to celebrate with his family.
"I'm happy to be here. I still expect justice to prevail," Lord Black said in a brief telephone interview Wednesday evening.
While perhaps lacking his usual style and bravado, Lord Black's departure from the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex was a stunning victory in a five-year legal saga that, until now, had gone largely against him.
But even as he emerges from jail and savors a rare legal victory, Lord Black's future remains more clouded than ever. His finances appear to be in disarray, he faces a mountain of civil suits, and doesn't even know where he will live.
During a court hearing in Chicago on Wednesday before Judge Amy St. Eve, who presided over Lord Black's trial and set the terms of his release, Lord Black's lawyers acknowledged that their client had no assets to pledge as security for bail.
He couldn't put up the $30-million mansion in Palm Beach because the title has been turned over to a Connecticut-based investment firm to settle an $11.6-million loan. The 21,000-square-foot property is up for sale. He couldn't offer his estate in Toronto because it is tied up in another legal battle and subject to a 2006 court-ordered asset freeze. Instead, he had to rely on his friend Roger Hertog, a New York businessman, to pledge $2-million.
While Mr. Hertog declined comment, Lord Black's lawyers could be seen giving him heartfelt thanks after the hearing. Even Judge St. Eve appeared to wonder about his money, noting at one point during Wednesday's hearing that when she granted Lord Black bail in 2005 before his trial, he had no trouble putting up $20-million secured by the Palm Beach house.
An even bigger concern for Lord Black is his immigration status. Judge St. Eve was told that his only passport, which is from Britain, has expired, along with every other piece of identification. The judge asked repeatedly if Lord Black had anything that would even allow him to board a plane and fly to Chicago for a hearing on Friday, only to be told that everything had expired.
Judge St. Eve ordered Lord Black to remain in the United States for a further review of his situation by court officials. When he appears on Friday to hear the final terms of his bail, she is expected to rule on whether he can leave the United States.
Lord Black may never be able to return to Canada. Having been convicted of an indictable offence in the United States, Lord Black, who renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001, would be inadmissible to Canada as a foreign national with a criminal past, immigration lawyers say.
His best hope likely will be to apply to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, for a temporary resident permit. Such permits may be granted to persons travelling to Canada who might otherwise be turned away at the border for reasons including a past criminal conviction.
"A temporary resident permit is what used to be called a minister's permit. It's sort of like a golden pass," said Guidy Mamann, a lawyer and expert on Canadian immigration law. "The bottom line is, does Conrad Black have friends in the minister's office? That's what it's all going to boil down to."
Mr. Kenney's office declined to comment Wednesday, saying the Privacy Act prevented them from discussing individual cases and that it would be inappropriate to discuss hypothetical applications.
But that is just one of many legal hurdles that await Lord Black now that he has been set free. The Internal Revenue Service is after him for $70-million in unpaid taxes and penalties, the Securities and Exchange Commission has a lawsuit against him and there are dozens of actions in Canada and United States.
Lord Black was indicted in 2005 despite proclaiming for years that the charges of fraud and obstruction of justice would never stick and that he would be exonerated. He was convicted in 2007 and sent to jail in 2008 for 6½ years, more than twice as long as any of the other defendants in the case.
He continued railing behind bars, insisting that he would win in the end, only to lose appeal after appeal and miss out on a presidential pardon in the dying days of the George W. Bush administration. Meanwhile, his former newspaper empire, once among the largest in the world, sank into bankruptcy and some of his prized possessions were auctioned off.
Then, just when all seemed lost, came a stunning series of events. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a group of corporate fraud cases, including Lord Black's, that involved a legal theory known as "honest services," which makes it a crime to scheme to deprive constituencies or companies of the right to honest service. Critics have said the concept is so vague that it allows judges to convict people of fraud for minor ethical transgressions, and several Supreme Court justices had been itching to tackle it for years. The court not only heard the cases, but also issued a ground-breaking ruling last month that narrowed the scope of the theory and put hundreds of convictions, including Lord Black's, into doubt.
Within weeks, a federal appeal court granted Lord Black's request for bail and signalled that he may yet see his three fraud convictions overturned.
For a few days anyway, before he begins the next chapter of the story, Lord Black can enjoy the sun and the splendour of his ocean-front villa. He has won a remarkable victory, helped re-write U.S. law and maybe yet will see his name cleared from the criminal records.
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