It was a blast from the past – that news item reporting the U.S. Supreme Court had set aside three fraud convictions against Montreal-born Conrad Black and sent his case back to a lower court.
It’s not that I ever knew Conrad Black – excuse me, Lord Black of Crossharbour – but I certainly knew of his wife, Barbara.
Before she became Lady Black, she was Canadian journalist Barbara Amiel.
And in the 1970s she worked off-and-on for CTV (where my former brother-in-law Alan Edmonds produced and starred in a very popular program) and TV Ontario (where I was Information Director). She also writes for Maclean’s magazine (where Alan was once a staff writer).
Alan, who sadly is no longer with us, was rather liberal – as were nearly all of us scribes back in the heyday of the “liberal left-wing media.” So, to put it mildly, he did not share Barbara’s views. I didn’t read her column but, from what I’ve heard, she was extremely conservative.
She was the kind of person who reveled in the class-conscious customs of yesteryear. So you can imagine how triumphant she must have felt when she became Mrs. Conrad Black and later when the British Crown gave her husband a title. (I suppose she didn’t mind that the title’s name comes from a London subway station.)
The couple (photo above) were so enamored of “nobility” that Black gave up his Canadian citizenship to become his Lordship. (The down-to-earth Canadians have a provision against accepting fancy foreign titles so he had to make a choice.)
The irony of those silly titles is overwhelming. You can be the worst cad in the world and still get one. All you have to do, apparently, is accumulate loads of money and/or fame. Golfers, cricket players and rock stars are among Britain’s titled aristocracy. And, so, too, are a lot of robber baron types like Conrad Black.
Black was a bad egg who was expelled from “the best schools” in Canada. And he became a no-holds-barred financial sleight-of-hand artist who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and managed to turn it into gold (by very questionable means).
He was also a shameless right-wing propagandist, who abused his considerable intellect to make a case for the most outrageous conservative policies. And he gobbled up newspapers in Canada and the UK to spread his message.
So not everyone was upset when Hollinger International removed Black as its chairman in 2004 and launched a $200-million U.S. lawsuit against him. And that was just the beginning.
In November 2005. the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago charged Black with eight counts of mail fraud and wire fraud. He pleaded not guilty and was released after posting a $20 million bond. In December 2005, prosecutors filed more criminal charges against him, including racketeering, obstruction of justice and money laundering. Charges of criminal tax evasion followed in 2006.
In 2007, a jury in Chicago found him guilty of stealing millions of dollars through bogus non-compete agreements, and the 65-year-old press baron is a couple of years into a 78-month sentence in the Coleman Correctional Institution in Central Florida.
Barbara reportedly spends most of her time in their Palm Beach mansion.
With the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling Thursday that the jury was given improper instructions to determine whether Black was guilty of fraud, his legal team is moving to have him released on bail.
The team will also renew their challenge to the obstruction of justice conviction. They argue that he never would have been convicted of obstructing justice were it not for the decision that he was guilty of fraud – which has been vacated.
Meanwhile, Black is trying to get back his Canadian citizenship. He concluded a recent newspaper article with the observation, “I have never been happier to be Canadian.”