A federal judge sent the fraud trial of one-time media baron Conrad Black and other former Hollinger International executives to a jury Wednesday after 3½ months of testimony.
Jurors were asked to decide whether the 62-year-old Black and co-defendants Peter Atkinson, Jack Boultbee and Mark Kipnis stole millions of dollars from the newspaper company that should have gone to shareholders and lied to federal investigators. All have pleaded not guilty.
Judge Amy St. Eve turned over the complex case to the jury after reading instructions for 48 minutes.
Lead government prosecutor Eric Sussman earlier wrapped up his rebuttal statements to 25 hours of closing arguments by defense lawyers, focusing again on the controversial fees paid to the Hollinger executives from newspaper sales that are at the heart of the case.
The defense says the payments were made in order to ensure that Hollinger would not compete against the new owners of its newspapers; the government contends they are bogus.
“The false pretense is that this is non-compete money,” Sussman said. “It’s really a bonus.”
The outcome may hinge on the testimony of F. David Radler, Black’s longtime partner and the No. 2 executive at Hollinger who has pleaded guilty to the alleged scheme. In return for his cooperation and testimony at the trial, he expects to get a lenient 29-month sentence.
The former Hollinger newspaper empire, which once extended to large dailies in Canada, London and Jerusalem, now consists of the Chicago Sun-Times and about 100 community newspapers in the metropolitan area. The company has been renamed Sun-Times Media Group Inc.