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Conrad Black contesting claims he shirked jail duties

Former media mogul Conrad Black arrives at federal court in Chicago, for a status hearing in his bid to remain free, as Black was released last year from a Florida prison while he appealed his conviction for defrauding Hollinger International Inc., investors. The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from Black challenging his two remaining convictions on fraud and obstruction of justice, The Associated Press reports Tuesday, May 31, 2011.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Conrad Black is contesting the testimony of two prison workers who said he shirked tutoring responsibilities and used other inmates as servants during his time at a Florida prison, as his conduct behind bars comes under scrutiny ahead of his resentencing this month.

Affidavits by two employees filed with a U.S. federal court in Illinois suggest the former media baron wasn't the model inmate his defence team has painted him to be in its petition to the court arguing that he should not return to jail.

The scathing reports will be considered when Judge Amy St. Eve, who presided over Lord Black's original trial in 2007, hears arguments this month on whether he should return to jail on two remaining convictions.

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But Lord Black said the officials' testimony is at odds with evidence from other sources provided to the Probation Office and "will be rebutted at the appropriate time by appropriate people."

"They are indicative of the deterioration of the government's case." he said in an e-mail.

In one of the affidavits, a unit manager at the Coleman complex says Lord Black demanded special treatment and gathered an entourage of inmates who acted like servants for him.

"Those inmates cooked for Black, cleaned for him, mopped his floor, ironed his clothes and other similar tasks. That is not at all frequent at Coleman," Tammy Padgett said in the document.

She added that Lord Black's assigned case manager reported that he demanded to be called Lord Black the day he was released on bond last summer, awaiting the outcome of an appeal.

"Black told [her]words to the effect of 'I believe I should be addressed as Lord Black from this point forward,'" she said.

In another document, Carrie De La Garza, an education specialist who supervised Lord Black as a tutor, said he was a haughty and uninterested mentor.

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"He projected the attitude that he was better than others in the class, both faculty and students. A lot of the inmates looked up to him, and there were some who saluted him each day in class," she said in the sworn testimony.

Ms. De La Garza said Lord Black was frequently late and often read or worked on writing what appeared to be a book while he was supposed to be teaching.

"In addition, Black elected to take a piano class, which caused him to miss parts of the GED [general educational development]classes. Of the three tutors assigned to my class during the time Black was an inmate at Coleman, Black put in the fewest hours," she said.

Ms. De La Garza's depiction of Lord Black's time as a tutor disputes his defence team, who argue in court filings that his contributions to the community "were nothing short of extraordinary.

"Few indeed could take credit for guiding more than 100 GED candidates to graduation, and Mr. Black's work with his colleagues to more than double the number of graduates (including several who had been written off as hopeless causes) is truly commendable when one considers the very difficult circumstances he faced," the defence filing says.

However, Ms. De La Garza refuted the filing with figures showing there had been no increase in the graduation rate of the prison's students, instead saying there had been a decline to 81 in 2010 from 87 in 2007.

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Lord Black, who had been serving a 6½-year sentence in the U.S. federal prison, was freed last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court curtailed the "honest services" laws used to convict him of defrauding Hollinger International investors.

An appeals court subsequently reversed two convictions, but upheld two others - on fraud and obstruction of justice. He is scheduled to be resentenced on those convictions June 24.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal of the convictions last week, meaning Lord Black won't be cleared of the charges, but could remain free if the judge decides to allow him time served on the counts.

The U.S. Attorney believes Lord Black's original sentence should be reimposed.

The Canadian Press

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