CHICAGO (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Friday ordered former media baron Conrad Black back to prison for 13 more months, cutting his original 6 1/2-year sentence nearly in half for remaining fraud and obstruction of justice convictions.
U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, in pronouncing a total sentence of 42 months, told the 66-year-old member of Britain’s House of Lords she was swayed by letters from fellow inmates and other factors in departing from federal guidelines calling for a stiffer resentencing.
Black’s wife, Barbara Amiel Black, collapsed immediately in her seat after St. Eve ruled, and was assisted out of the courtroom by medical personnel.
She later walked out of the courthouse supported on her husband’s arm, wearing sunglasses. A U.S. marshal who had rushed to her side said she was fine, and possibly dehydrated.
After serving 29 months in prison, Black was released in July 2010 based on a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court narrowed the scope of the federal honest services law used to help convict him and an appeals court subsequently voided two of three fraud counts against him. That necessitated the resentencing on Friday.
“It’s a very serious crime,” St. Eve told the silver-haired former chief executive of newspaper publishing giant Hollinger International Inc.
“Corporate executives need to be sent a message that the company’s money belongs to the company, and its shareholders,” she said. “You had a duty of trust. The shareholders put their trust in you. And you violated that trust.”
In departing from federal guidelines calling for Black to be resentenced to between 51 and 63 months, St. Eve cited his conduct in prison, his charitable work with the family foundation, his advanced age and the unlikelihood he would ever commit another crime.
The letters from inmates who served time with Black at Coleman prison in Florida said he had been generous with his time and tutelage.
Before the sentencing, Black spoke at length, and with typical eloquence, about his sense of the case that began some eight years ago with an accusation he and his colleagues had engaged in a $500 million “kleptocracy.”
The Canadian-born Black said he had been unfairly portrayed as a “guerrilla warrior” objecting to the U.S. justice system, countering, “I have been absolutely submissive to legal authority.”
He stopped short of expressing remorse, saying he regretted the loss of $2 billion in shareholder value caused by fallout from the case against him and four other Hollinger executives.
Black was convicted of scheming with partner David Radler and other executives to siphon off millions of dollars in proceeds from the sales of newspapers as they unwound Hollinger, once the world’s third-largest publisher of English-language newspapers. It operated the Chicago Sun-Times, Jerusalem Post, London’s Daily Telegraph and dozens of other newspapers across North America.
“I do believe in repentance ... and punishment,” he said. “It is right that people inevitably pay for their mistakes.”
He quoted Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling and other notables, and said he had become a patient in psychoanalysis since his release in July, learning that “it is practically impossible to suppress conscientious remorse.”
Black said a lawsuit he filed in Canada against the authors of a report condemning his reign at Hollinger was near a settlement, and would result in a payment to him for the “scurrilous charges” contained in it.
St. Eve said she would grant Black up to two months before he must surrender to finish out his sentence, noting that unlike U.S. citizens convicted of financial crimes, he was not eligible for a low-security prison “camp.” He also is ineligible for a halfway house before release.
As a British citizen convicted of a felony, Black will be forced to leave the United States on release, but he may be allowed to return to Canada.
“I have always tried to take success like a gentleman and disappointment like a man,” Black said.
Editing by Peter Cooney