Black loses bid for appeal bond, will go to prison Monday

Former newspaper baron denied appeal over his fraud conviction, seeking to delay the start of his 6½-year sentence.

conrad black 224 88 (photo credit: )
conrad black 224 88
(photo credit: )
An appeals court has denied former newspaper baron Conrad Black's request to remain free on bond while appealing his fraud conviction and ordered him to go to prison Monday. Black, 63, convicted of defrauding the shareholders of his Hollinger International Inc. newspaper empire had sought to delay the start of his 6½-year sentence, saying that he had a good chance of winning on appeal. In addition to his prison sentence, Black, a prominent biographer as well as a member of the British House of Lords, must pay $6.1 million (€4 million) in restitution. The federal appeals court on Thursday left open the possibility it might overturn some counts on which Black and two co-defendants had been convicted, saying that they had raised "substantial issues." But they suggested there was less chance of reversing the one count on which Black was the only defendant convicted - obstruction of justice. At trial, jurors were shown a video of Black himself carrying boxes of documents out of his Toronto office although they were not supposed to be removed because investigators believed that they might be evidence. The appeals court noted Black was sentenced to 78 months on that count alone - "substantially longer than the normal course of an appeal." That suggested there was less danger that Black would serve time in prison only to be told by the appeals court that all of his convictions were reversed, the appeals judges said. They also noted Black had been sentenced to 60 months on one of the fraud counts. The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals did allow Black's two co-defendants, Peter Y. Atkinson and John Boultbee, to remain free on bond while appealing their sentences. They were not charged with obstruction. Black's appeals lawyer, Andrew L. Frey, reached at his law office in New York, said he was "surprised and disappointed" at the ruling. "But I still retain a substantial level of confidence that we will prevail," Frey said. "This was just one preliminary round." He scoffed at the notion that the video of Black carrying out the boxes should be sufficient to convict Black of obstruction, saying there was no evidence the former newspaper baron did so to interfere with the investigation of the case. "I regard that as one of the weakest counts," he said. The US attorney's office declined to comment, spokesman Randall Samborn said. Hollinger International was once one of the world's largest newspaper holding companies with hundreds of community newspapers across the United States and Canada as well as The Daily Telegraph of London, the Jerusalem Post and the Chicago Sun-Times. All of its largest papers have now been sold except the Sun-Times and the company has been renamed Sun-Times News Group. Black was convicted of siphoning money out of Hollinger and disguising the amounts he received as "non-compete payments." Such payments are sometimes made by buyers of newspapers in return for promises from sellers not to return to the same circulation area and go into competition with the new owners. Prosecutors argued Black and his fellow executives were not really getting non-compete payments but just dipping into company funds. Black is due to report by 2 p.m. (1900 GMT) Monday to a federal correctional center at Coleman, Florida, to start serving his sentence. Allowing convicted defendants to remain free on bond pending appeal is very unusual and generally happens only when the appeals court believes there is a real chance that the conviction will be overturned. The order requiring Black to start his sentence was issued by Chief Judge Frank H. Easterbrook and Judges William J. Bauer and Richard A. Posner.