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Media tycoon Black, 3 others found guilty

July 14, 2007|From the Associated Press

CHICAGO — A federal jury on Friday found fallen media tycoon Conrad Black and three of his former executives at Hollinger International Inc. guilty of illegally pocketing millions of dollars that should have gone to stockholders.

Black, 62, was convicted of three counts of mail fraud and one count of obstruction of justice. He faces a maximum sentence of 35 years and a maximum fine of $1 million.

He was acquitted of nine other counts, including racketeering and misuse of corporate perks, such as taking the company plane on a vacation to Bora Bora and billing shareholders $40,000 for his wife's birthday party.

Black, sitting at a table with his attorneys, did not show any emotion when the verdict was read. After U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve briefly adjourned the court, his wife, Barbara Amiel Black, and his daughter, Alana, leaned over to console him.

The judge set a Nov. 30 sentencing date. She took possession of Black's passport and he promised to stay in the Chicago area until Thursday, when she'll consider a government motion to revoke his $21-million bond and take him into custody.

When Black was indicted in 2005, prosecutors accused him of swindling shareholders out of $84 million.

But during bond discussions that followed the verdict, Black's defense attorneys said he was convicted of stealing $3.5 million.

Although the verdict was mixed, the case signaled U.S. prosecutors' increasing aggressiveness in pursuing senior corporate executives, after the Enron Corp., Tyco International Ltd. and WorldCom Inc. scandals, and in holding top executives personally accountable.

Black's three codefendants were each found guilty of three counts of mail fraud. They are former Hollinger International Vice Presidents John Boultbee, 64, of Vancouver, Canada, and Peter Y. Atkinson, 60, of Toronto; and attorney Mark Kipnis, 59, of Chicago. They face a maximum of 15 years in prison and as much as $750,000 in fines.

Boultbee and Atkinson left the courthouse with their attorneys without talking to reporters. Ron Safer, an attorney for Kipnis, called the jury "conscientious" but said, "These were extremely complex facts and we believe they were not able to differentiate Mr. Kipnis' situation."

The trial lasted 14 weeks, and the jury delivered its verdict on the 12th day of deliberations.

Hollinger International once owned community papers across the U.S. and Canada as well as the Chicago Sun-Times, the Toronto-based National Post, the Daily Telegraph of London and Israel's Jerusalem Post.

The Sun-Times is the only large paper remaining at the company, whose name has been changed to Sun-Times News Group.

Jacob Frenkel, a federal prosecutor and Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement lawyer, called the jury's decision a "stunning victory" for the government after a slow start in the trial. He also called a split verdict the best possible outcome for the prosecution.

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