Former media mogul Conrad Black was released from a federal prison in Miami today after serving about three years for defrauding investors.
Black, whose empire once included the Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post and small papers across the US and Canada, had returned to prison last September to finish serving his sentence.
A former member of the British House of Lords, he had been sentenced to more than six years in prison after his 2007 conviction in Chicago, but had then been released on bail two years later to pursue an appeal that was partially successful.
A judge reduced his sentence to three years and he returned in prison last September. With time off for good behaviour, he has completed his sentence.
Black’s chance to squash his convictions arose in June 2010 when the US Supreme Court sharply curtailed the disputed “honest services” laws that underpinned part of his case.
The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago tossed out two of Black’s fraud convictions last year, citing that landmark ruling. But it said one conviction for fraud and one for obstruction of justice were not affected by the Supreme Court ruling.
The fraud conviction, the judges concluded, involved Black and others taking $600,000 (€456,361) and had nothing to do with honest services. It was, they said, straightforward theft.
Black – who received the title of Lord Black of Crossharbour – was known for a grand lifestyle, including a $62,000 (€47,157) birthday party for his wife, a plush apartment on Park Avenue in New York and a trip to the island of Bora Bora.
Black’s three-month trial drew international attention, heightened by his sometimes haughty comments.
When shareholders grumbled about the cost of the Bora Bora trip, he wrote a memo saying: “I’m not prepared to re-enact the French revolutionary renunciation of the rights of the nobility.”
At the core of the honest services charges against Black was his strategy, starting in 1998, of selling off the bulk of the small community papers, which were published in smaller cities across the United States and Canada.
Black and other Hollinger executives received millions of dollars in payments from the companies that bought the community papers in return for promises that they would not return to compete with the new owners.
Prosecutors said the executives pocketed the money, which they said belonged to shareholders, without telling Hollinger’s board of directors.
At his resentencing hearing last year, several inmates wrote letters to the judge saying Black had changed their lives through lectures he gave on writing, history, economics and other subjects.
But one prison employee claimed in an affidavit that Black had arranged for inmates – “acting like servants” – to iron his clothes, mop his floor and perform other chores.
Another employee told her Black once insisted she address him as “Lord Black”.