CHICAGO – Conrad Black, once a media mogul whose newspaper empire spanned several continents, is headed back to prison after a federal judge ruled Friday that he had not served enough time for defrauding investors.
U.S. Judge Amy St. Eve sentenced Black to 3 1/2 years in prison after berating and then praising him. But prosecutors say he will be given credit for more than two years he already had served, meaning the 66-year-old will go back for a little more than a year.
As St. Eve announced the sentence with Black standing expressionless before her, his 70-year-old wife, Barbara Amiel, fainted on a wooden courtroom bench. As she sprawled across the laps of other spectators, medics rushed in to attend to her.
In a 20-minute statement before he was sentenced, Black spoke confidently and philosophically, citing poetry and maintaining he had been falsely accused. At no point did he apologize.
His final words to St. Eve were to ask for a lesser sentence.
"I never ask for mercy," he said, standing with his hands on the podium and looking straight at her, "but I do ask for avoidance of injustice."
St. Eve had originally sentenced Black to 6 1/2 years in prison after he was convicted in 2007 of defrauding investors in Hollinger International Inc.
Black, whose empire once included the Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph of London, The Jerusalem Post and small papers across the U.S. and Canada, served more than two years before being freed on bail to pursue what would be partially successful appeals.
St. Eve said Friday that Black had "violated the trust" of his shareholders and expressed bewilderment that someone as gifted as Black would commit such a crime.
"As you stand before me today, I still scratch my head as to why you engaged in this conduct," she said.
Her sentence could have been far tougher. But St. Eve said she rejected the option of sending Black back to prison for more than four years in part because of dozens of letters she had received from inmates saying Black had changed their lives through lectures he gave on writing, history, economics and other subjects.
Prosecutor Julie Porter said the government, which had sought a longer sentence, was pleased with the result.
It "sends a very strong message to corporate executives," she said.
After the hearing, the Blacks walked out of the federal courthouse together, his arm around her. They got into a chauffeured vehicle and drove away.
Black will have to report to prison in about six weeks, though a fixed date hadn't been set, U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Randall Samborn said.
Black's big chance to squash his convictions arose in June 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court sharply curtailed the disputed "honest services" laws that underpinned part of his case.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago tossed out two of Black's fraud convictions last year, citing that landmark ruling.
But the appellate judges said one conviction for fraud and one for obstruction of justice were not affected by the Supreme Court's ruling. The fraud conviction, the judges concluded, involved Black and others taking $600,000 and had nothing to do with honest services: It was, they asserted, straightforward theft.
The appeals court said St. Eve would have to sentence Black again for those two standing counts.
Despite the nullified counts, prosecutors had asked St. Eve to hand Black the same sentence she originally meted out.
"He fails to acknowledge his central role in destroying Hollinger International through greed and lies, instead blaming the government and others for what he describes as an unjust persecution," prosecutors said in a recent filing.
At Friday's hearing, as close as Black got to expressing repentance was to say obliquely that, "It is not the case that I have no remorse." He didn't say those feeling had anything to do with any wrongdoing on his part, rather that he had been too trusting of others.
Black's lawyers say the government's justification for a stiffer sentence displayed "a drive-by disparagement of Mr. Black which reveals nothing but the intensity of the government's dislike for him."
The defense argued that Black was a model prisoner who helped teach inmates and gladly offered advice about business and other matters to prisoners who constantly approached him.
Prosecutors say the defense painted too rosy a picture of Black's prison life.
One prison employee, Tammy Padgett, claimed in an affidavit filed by prosecutors that Black had arranged for inmates -- "acting like servants" -- to clean and cook for him, to iron his clothes, mop his floor and perform other chores.
Another employee told her that Black once insisted that she address him as "Lord Black," after an honorary title bestowed on him by Britain, Padgett added.