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November 29, 07

NEWS / Secret report suggests Lord Black will be spared spending rest of his life in jail

James Bone in New York
Lord Black of Crossharbour has pleaded for a lenient sentence in his US fraud case, citing his good character and “contributions to society”.

In a 52-page court filing, his lawyers argued that the fallen press baron has already suffered great torment because of his US fraud conviction - and that both his sons have experienced serious health problems as a result.

“There can exist no doubt that Conrad Black has already paid an enormous price for the actions that were the subject of this case,” the defence said. “He has been ousted from the company that he built and to which he dedicated his professional life. He has lost the ability that he so dearly cherished to participate in public debate on political issues. He has watched his family suffer untold agonies at the hands of the savage and reckless press.

“During the course of the last five years, both of Mr Black’s sons, James and Jonathan, have suffered severe health problems that bear connection to the tribulations endured by the entire family,” the filing said.

The defence argued that Black’s sentence should be reduced because of his outstanding character and “minor role” in the fraud.

The tycoon backed up his claims with testimonials from prominent friends, including publisher Lord Weidenfeld and former Sunday Telegraph editor Dominic Lawson.

“He is a person with a deep reservoir of kindness and generosity consistently exhibited to people of all stations in life and an individual who has made significant contributions to society,” Black’s lawyers said.

Black himself has given a grudging welcome to a confidential pre-sentencing report that suggests he may not spend the rest of his life behind bars. The report, prepared by a probation officer, could mean the 63-year-old former Telegraph chairman serves decades less in prison than US prosecutors demand.

The report determined the scope of Lord Black’s fraud to be $6.1 million rather than the $32.15 million estimated by the prosecution. The defence insists the former owner of the Telegraph newspapers, currently free on bail at his Florida home pending sentencing on December 10, personally received under $3 million in illicit funds.

The report’s conclusion will push the judge towards giving Black a sentence closer to the defence’s estimate of just four and a half years imprisonment, rather than the 24-30 years sought by the prosecution. The maximum is 35 years. Under US law, he will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence.

“I get the sense that the pre-sentence report has a guideline range under 10 years,” said Douglas Berman, a sentencing expert at Ohio State University who follows the case.

In an email to the Toronto Star, Black said his counsel was “satisfied” with the probation officer’s recommendations, though he remained defiant, still pinning his hopes on an appeal

“I will not use the word ’victory’ until this entire outrage has been confined to the proverbial dustbin of history,” he wrote.

The differing estimates of the scope of the crime are attributable to the fact that Black was convicted of only three of the six wire fraud charges against him, as well as one count of obstruction of justice.

The prosecution argues that his criminal conduct encompasses money plundered in a wide-ranging conspiracy, including the other counts.

But the defence insists the crime is limited to the specific counts of fraud for which Black was convicted.

Judge Amy St Eve will be guided by the pre-sentencing report, but is not bound by it. Before dismissing the jurors after the verdict in July, she spent almost an hour talking with them privately about their decision.

On Wednesday the prosecution filed its unusually vehement objections to the pre-sentencing report (PSR) in a 32-page document covering Black and the four other company officers convicted in the case.

“The government...objects to the PSR’s conclusion that the loss amount from defendants’ fraud scheme is limited to the $6.1 million received by Black, Radler, Boultbee and Atkinson for the APC and supplemental noncompete payments,” prosecutors wrote.

“The PSR recognises that the loss amount attributable to defendants at sentencing can and should be based on not only the counts of conviction but all relevant conduct established by a preponderance of the evidence... And yet, without any discussion of the months of testimony and dozens of exhibits establishing the common scheme among all the US community non-compete payments, the PSR simply states that “a preponderance of evidence is lacking to establish any relevant conduct ... constituting part of a common scheme or plan as the counts of conviction.”

Prosecutors also objected to the pre-sentencing report’s apparent conclusion that Black should not receive an increased jail sentence for being the ring-leader of the criminal enterprise or for committing securities fraud.

Although calling it a “close call”, the probation officer also found that Black should not receive extra punishment for using “sophisticated means” in his crimes.

From The Times
November 29, 2007
James Bone in New York
Sources: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/markets/united_states/article2963662.ece

Tags: us law, document,


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