Snap Judgment: My day in court

Testimony not given in the trial of 'The United States vs Conrad Black.'

3003snap (photo credit: Bloomberg)
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
The Place: Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Chicago, Illinois. The Time: The present. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the prosecution calls to the stand Calev Ben-David. Mr. Ben-David, do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I do, and also all the truth that's fit to print. Mr. Ben-David, would you state your relationship to the accused, Conrad Black, who together with three associates is charged with improperly pocketing some $83 million from the international media company Hollinger. Until two years ago I worked as managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, which was then owned by Hollinger. And did you ever meet the accused in person? No. I believe Mr. Black only made one visit to the Post in the 15 years he owned it, and I was not there at the time. I see. And did you ever meet his beautiful, tempestuous, profligate wife, Barbara Amiel?Are we to assume then that you were not invited to attend the birthday party for Ms Amiel at the swanky New York restaurant La Grenouille, for which her husband used $42,000 of the company's funds? Unfortunately, I was not on that guest list. But isn't it true, Mr. Ben-David - and remember, you're under oath here - that a party was once thrown in your honor that was entirely paid for by Hollinger funds? Ummm... yes, that's true. I did get such a farewell party when I stepped down as managing editor. And where was that party held? La Grenouille? No, it was in the newsroom of The Jerusalem Post building - which I should note was actually at one time a chicken processing plant. Irrelevant, your honor, and I'd like that stricken from the record. And how much did this little "celebration" cost Hollinger shareholders? Let's see, we had a couple of boxes of wafers, a few plates of Bamba, bottle of coke, bottle of Sprite... I say also about 42. Thousands of dollars? No, tens of shekels. So you say. Now Mr. Ben-David, are you aware that Mr. Black also allowed his wife's purchase of a $2,500 Hermes handbag to be filed as a "business expense"? I have read that, yes. Isn't it true that at this "farewell party" you had, you also received a gift that was entirely paid for - down to the very last cent - by money that by due right belonged to the public stockholders of Hollinger? That is correct. And what was this gift? A heart-shaped pillow with blue fur on one side, and embossed on the other with the words "With Love" and the front page of The Jerusalem Post as it appeared that day. Very nice. Also from Hermes? I don't think they sell fuzzy blue pillows. Perhaps not. Let's stop wasting the court's time, Mr. Ben-David. Don't you in fact know witness for the prosecution David Radler, the notoriously penny-pinching former president of Hollinger? I do. I met Mr. Radler several times in his former capacity as president of The Jerusalem Post company. Then you surely also know that Mr. Radler has already admitted to committing fraud, as part of the plea bargain deal by which he agreed to testify against his former partner, Conrad Black. Are you also aware - and remember, you are still under oath - of any improper behavior by Mr. Radler in connection with The Jerusalem Post? Well, an internal report released by Hollinger in 2004 did cite possible misuse of the Post's charity funds by Mr. Radler. The report stated: "According to [former Jerusalem Post publisher Tom] Rose, Radler regularly recommended charity recipients... the Jerusalem Post Charitable Fund paid approximately $25,000 of Radler's pledge to support a business program scholarship for graduate students at the University of Haifa. Rose sent a memo to Radler in May 2001 expressing concern... 'Your suggestion that we pay for the table at the Haifa U. dinner in your honor with monies from the funds might not be such a good idea. I have been advised that authorities are getting more serious about insuring [sic] that non-profit payment guidelines are followed.'" Now we're getting somewhere. Mr. Ben-David, this court is prepared to bring in witnesses who will testify, under oath, that during your time of employment by The Jerusalem Post, you referred to yourself, more than once, as a "charity case." Is this not so? It is so. And does this mean that you yourself were a recipient of the Post Charitable Fund? It does not, no. So you say. Was The Jerusalem Post cited anywhere else in this internal report? Yes. According to the report, "In addition, at Black's and Radler's direction, the Company employed various of their family members. Barbara Amiel Black received $1,141,558 in 'salary' and 'bonus' paid by the Company for serving as Vice President of the Company, a position for which she performed little, if any, work, in addition to being paid separately for her work as a columnist. Radler's daughter, Melissa Radler, was employed byThe Jerusalem Post as the New York correspondent. Melissa Radler started out at a salary of $38,000 and received a raise that almost doubled her salary, to $62,000. Tom Rose, while describing Ms Radler as an outstanding reporter, said that 'a merit raise was not uncalled for,' but that Ms Radler received such a raise only because Radler, Rose's boss, sought it." Very generous. And during this period, did Mr. Radler also recommend a merit raise for you? No. In fact, like the rest of the staff at the time, I was forced to take an across-the-board 10 percent pay cut. Really? Why was that? Mr. Rose said it was for the sake of the Hollinger shareholders. The same shareholders who were allegedly being defrauded of tens of millions of dollars by Mr. Radler and Mr. Black? The same. Mr. Ben-David, I think we're done here. Is there anything you've learned from this experience you want to share with the court? Yes. Crime doesn't pay... and working for criminals doesn't pay much either. Anything more? Can I keep my fuzzy blue pillow? The witness is excused. The writer is director of the Jerusalem office of The Israel Project.