Skip to main content

Conrad Black has been convicted on four criminal charges, including obstruction and three counts of mail fraud. He was found not guilty on nine other charges. He now faces the prospect of as much as 35 years in jail.

Lord Black sat stone-faced, looking at the jury, as the judge asked each one if this was their verdict.

The most dire decision by the jury: on count 13, the jury judged Conrad Black guilty of obstruction of justice in connection with the removal of 13 boxes of documents from his office at 10 Toronto Street in Toronto. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail and a $250,000 (U.S.) fine.

Lord Black, 62, was also convicted on three counts of mail fraud.

Together, the convictions carry a maximum jail term, if served consecutively, of 35 years and a maximum fine of $1-million.

Lord Black's key financial adviser, John Boultbee, was found guilty on three counts of mail fraud, as were Lord Black's long-time friend, Peter Atkinson, and the man who was credited with arranging the non-competition agreements central to the trial, Mark Kipnis.

Lord Black huddled with his family after the verdict was read. Other defendants hugged their lawyers, looking grim. Some were close to tears. Judge Amy St. Eve left to talk to jurors ahead of a hearing on bail conditions that followed shortly thereafter.

Lord Black's Toronto-based lawyer, Edward Greenspan, declined to comment during a short break before the bail hearing. When asked how Lord Black is doing he said "He's doing okay."

When the bail hearing resumed, lead prosecutor Eric Sussman moved to revoke Lord Black's bond, saying Lord Black likely faces between 15 and 20 years in jail which makes him a flight risk.

Edward Genson, Lord Black's Chicago-based lawyer, told the court that Lord Black is already preparing for an appeal. Mr. Genson argued that Lord Black's bail should not be revoked.

Lord Black waived his right to extradition as part of his original bail. But Mr. Sussman argued that could be irrelevant if Lord Black simply goes to Canada and does not return.

Mr. Genson said one option would be for Lord Black to remain in Chicago, pending the appeal. "It's an uncomfortable option, it's an expensive option, but it's better than going to jail," he said. The judge said she would consider that option.

Mr. Greenspan argued that Lord Black has no intention of fleeing, "His past, his present and his future are wrapped up in this case," he told the judge. "It would amaze me if he would entertain the thought of fleeing." He also told the court that Lord Black's assets are already tied up under a private agreement struck last fall with the new managers of Hollinger Inc.

Judge St. Eve ruled that Mr. Boultbee and Peter Atkinson can remain free on bail and travel between the U.S. and Canada. Mr. Boultbee's bail will remain at $1.5-million. Mr. Atkinson's bail remains at $2-million, secured by a house he owns in California.

A decision on bail for Lord Black however will wait until next Thursday, after Judge St. Eve ruled that she would give Lord Black's lawyers time to prepare arguments. In the meantime, Lord Black will remain in Chicago and he handed over his passport to the judge pending the bail hearing.

Judge St. Eve ordered Lord Black and the others to appear for sentencing on Nov. 30.

When asked outside the courtroom whether his client was going to appeal, Ron Safer, a lawyer for Mr.Kipnis, nodded.

A lawyer for Mr. Boultbee told reporters in an elevator that this is a "major defeat" for the government, citing, as an example, that Lord Black was not convicted on the charge of racketeering under the Racketeer influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Leaving the court room, when asked if he had anything to say, Lord Black only said "no." He went to a room with his daughter and lawyer in the court house.

The verdicts came today after a three month trial and nearly three years of investigation by prosecutors in Chicago.

Lord Black had vigorously denied the allegations against him, but in the end jurors believed the word of 29 prosecution witnesses.

For Mr. Sussman, the guilty verdict is a huge victory for the prosecution and marks one of the biggest white collar crime convictions in Chicago. Mr. Sussman and his team of Julie Ruder, Jeffrey Cramer and Ed Siskel, had come under intense scrutiny throughout the trial for their tactics.

Many observers had felt the prosecution put on a weak case, noting that in his closing address Mr. Sussman distanced himself from the prosecution's star witness, David Radler, Lord Black's former business partner who testified under a plea agreement.

Mr. Radler's credibility took a beating during the trial. He acknowledged lying repeatedly in the past and came across as confrontational on the witness stand. But jurors clearly looked past Mr. Radler's flaws and sided with prosecutors that he could not have committed this crime alone.

Andrew Stoltmann, a Chicago securities lawyer, said the guilty verdicts send a clear message that, "corporate CEOs who get caught with their hand in the cookie jar are not above the law."

Paul Paton, a Queen's University professor of law specializing in legal ethics and corporate governance, called the verdict "remarkable."

"The jury sorted through all the noise, they ignored all the fluff and focused on the critical non compete charges," he said in an interview. "The fact that they are getting hard time for corporate misconduct signals that these are real charges and real crimes."

For Lord Black and his legal team, which includes Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Genson, the verdict is a massive defeat. Lord Black had proclaimed for months that the case against him would crumble and he frequently lashed out at the prosecution. As recently as last weekend, Lord Black expressed complete confidence that all of the charges against him would fail. He called the case an "outrage" and said he felt like "a soldier conscripted for a foreign war. You fight till you win, and then you come home."

Terry Sullivan, a Chicago lawyer who has followed the trial, said Lord Black could have a decent chance on appeal. "I think he has got a good chance on the obstruction charge in particular. And maybe the others as well. I still don't see how there was any obstruction here," he said.

For now, Lord Black will have to cope with the threat of what could be several years in jail, a hefty fine and attempts by prosecutors to seize his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla., as well as other personal assets. After the verdicts were read, Lord Black was placed under oath. After stating his full name, he confirmed that his signature was on a piece of paper in which he waived his right to a jury trial for forfeiture. That means the court, or judge, will determine that issue and a hearing is expected soon.

The criminal case revolved largely around the sale of dozens of Hollinger International Inc. newspapers between 1998 and 2001. Prosecutors maintained that Lord Black and three other former executives pocketed more than $60-million in payments related to non-competition agreements signed as part of those deals. That money, prosecutors stressed, belonged to Hollinger's shareholders.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors told the jury over and over that Lord Black and the others stole the money and lied to company directors to cover up their scheme. They implored jurors to look beyond a paper trail created by Lord Black and ask themselves why this money was paid to the individuals instead of the company.

"That's what this case is about," Ms. Ruder said in her closing argument. "It's about why. Why was that money paid?"

She told jurors that the buyers of the Hollinger did not want non-competition agreements with Lord Black and the others. Nonetheless, she added, the executives inserted themselves into the agreements and skimmed off some of the payments. "This was just a money grab," Ms. Ruder said.

Lord Black's defence focused largely on company records which outlined the transactions in detail. His lawyers argued that the payments were fully disclosed to shareholders and directors. They mocked directors for not reviewing the documents closely and attacked Mr. Radler as a liar who could not be trusted.

But in the end, the jury of nine women and three men rejected those arguments and voted for a conviction.

With files from Roma Luciw and Tavia Grant.

United States v. Conrad Black et al.: Trial Verdicts
Charge Black Boultbee Atkinson Kipnis
Count 1 Mail Fraud
Count 2 Mail Fraud      
Count 3 Wire Fraud      
Count 4 Wire Fraud      
Count 5 Mail Fraud
Count 6 Mail Fraud
Count 7 Mail Fraud
Count 8 Wire Fraud
Count 9 Mail Fraud
Count 10 Wire Fraud    
Count 11 Wire Fraud    
Count 12 Wire Fraud    
Count 13 Obstruction of Justice      
Count 14 Racketeering      
Count 15 Tax Fraud  
Count 16 Tax Fraud

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe