Conrad Black Relives His Trial

October 30th, 2011 at 5:00 pm | 15 Comments |

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I’ve not read reviews of Conrad Black’s new book, A Matter of Principle, but it’s a remarkable work — unlike any of its kind that I’ve ever read. It tells the story of his Chicago trial and subsequent conviction.

While the trial is the core of the book, Conrad (excuse the informality—but that how many of us think of him) also tells the fascinating tale of how he acquired the Daily Telegraph, his surge to international prominence, the malice towards him generated by then-PM Jean Chretien, and finally his troubles at Hollinger and the vendetta waged by Richard Breeden – whose Special Report on Hollinger is presented as epic villainy.

In essence, the Breeden report destroyed a viable company, impoverished shareholders, and was profitable for “regulators” who oversaw Hollinger’s destruction.

Breedon is author of the “Corporate Kleptocracy” allegations against Conrad.

The ins-and-outs of Conrad’s newspaper acquisitions are a labyrinth of complexities, and not to everyone’s interest or understanding. Conrad seems to have total recall of everything, and he lays it out coherently and colourfully.

But it’s the story of his 2007 Chicago trial on 16 counts of fraud, theft, obstruction, etc. (reduced to 13 counts) that makes this 578-page book exceptional.

Conrad pulls no punches.

He analyzes participants in the trial with some brutality, enormous candor and considerable insight. His description of David Radler, his former partner who turned against him at the bidding of U.S. prosecutors, is soul-shivvering:

hunched, furtive, with darting, fearful eyes. . . . too distasteful to be pitiful . . . twitchy, timorous and bowed . . . misshapen by envy and insecurity that drove him to treachery and cowardice.

I covered much of the trial as a reporter, and that’s a pretty accurate summation of Radler (whom Conrad repeatedly refers to as the “rat”). Precise, blunt, succinct.

Not even his own lawyers escape Conrad’s candid assessments – especially Eddie Greenspan, his lead lawyer, to whom he gives credit in some instances, and then savages at other times.

Conrad quotes the lead prosecutor, Eric Sussman (whom he describes as having “a crewcut top knot . . . compulsively darting eyes . . . hollow chested . . . all nose, mouth and fake shoulders”). Sussman refers to Greenspan as “an old water buffalo.”

Among other criticisms, Conrad says “Eddie Greenspan’s methods were far too ponderous for the rapid cadence of American courts.”

In this context he notes: “Greenspan appeared to have no idea how to deal with the objections technically, and no idea whether they were well founded or not. Sussman was like a hyena nibbling at the legs of a lumbering beast.”

On one occasion Conrad says he asked Greenspan “very calmly ‘to raise my comfort level about your ability to master U.S. procedure.” Greenspan angrily flared up and said he’d return to Toronto immediately.

When told of this, Conrad’s wife Barbara Amiel “thought this was a golden opportunity not to be missed . . . and had to be restrained from paying for a private flight to take him home that day.”

That issue was ironed out, and Conrad acknowledges that Greenspan’s cross-examination of members of the Hollinger audit committee – former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson, former ambassador Richard Burt, Economist Marie-Josee Kravis – was a masterful emasculation that revealed them as either lazy, negligent, cowardly or untruthful – or all four.

From Conrad’s writings, it seems he was always second-guessing his lawyers, offering advice, recommending tactics, listening to his congenitally pessimistic wife who at times seemed to be unraveling and verged on panic. Conrad writes that Barbara and his daughter Alana repeatedly wanted Greenspan replaced.

Throughout, Conrad himself seemed a pillar of strength and composure – even when giving impromptu press conferences to the occasional dismay of Greenspan.

In the Globe and Mail on Oct. 1, Greenspan had a full page article on Conrad’s book, noting wryly that when he noticed he wasn’t one of “thousands of people” Conrad thanked and acknowledged in his book, “that I probably wasn’t going to like it.”

In challenging many of Conrad’s views, Greenspan said his health is fine (Conrad felt he was suffering the effects of diabetes). Greenspan was upset when journalist Mark Steyn wrote in Maclean’s magazine that just before the case went to the jury, Greenspan and his American counsel, Eddie Genson, had “demanded a million ‘bucks’ each” from Conrad.

“The clear implication was that we had effectively extorted our client at a moment of vulnerability,” Greenspan wrote. He wrote a letter to Maclean’s calling the allegation “complete fiction” and e-mailed a draft to Conrad who, he said, agreed with him: “I think you are right to rebut the allegation. If asked, I will support your version of this.”

However in his book, Conrad says “I was peddling away from the Eddies” . . . and noted Steyn’s “fierce diatribe . . . highlighting their lifting of $2.2 million from me just as the trial was ending. . . . It was the end of Greenspan’s mystique.”

This clearly wounded Greenspan. But it didn’t stop there.

While noting that Greenspan “had been an able lawyer, a genuine friend and a true believer in the right of all to representation,” Conrad added that: “The deterioration of such a man is objectively sad, and is made more so by the inelegance of his acts of denial and displacement of responsibility for his own shortcomings and aggressive paranoia . . . . His time is passing; I wish him well.”

I admit to being shocked and puzzled at Conrad’s harsh assessment of Greenspan, and also at Barbara’s belief that Greenspan should be replaced. Conrad writes: ”At one point . . . Barbara passed me a note suggesting that I interrupt proceedings and tell the court that there was a medical emergency that required Greenspan to withdraw . . . I ignored it, but it did betray the flaring nervosity in our camp, which I shared.”

In my view Eddie Greenspan saved Conrad Black.

Conrad is candid in documenting how, when fortunes turned against him, former friends and allies also turned against him. Even at the Telegraph, employees who owed their careers to Conrad, turned on him. As did then likes of Henry Kissinger, Hal Jackman, Alan Gottlieb. A host of lawyers milked him for millions. People he put on Hollinger’s board, turned on him – sided with the prosecutors.

If nothing else, Conrad Black seems not have been a great judge of character.

Kissinger (and others) now, apparently, want to be friends again. And Conrad is apparently agreeable. In this, he’s more generous than many would be.

At Conrad’s trial it was Greenspan who destroyed the audit committee’s efforts to support the prosecution’s contention that Black should be imprisoned for life. Thompson and Kravis were revealed as cowardly, as liars, as negligent.

Fred Creasy, Hollingers’ controller, was taken apart by Greenspan, who destroyed Creasy’s contention that Conrad’s trip to Bora Bora cost the company $565,000 — “the most expensive airplane trip in the history of manned flight,” said Greenspan. Creasy was badgered into acknowledging he might not be an expert in corporate financing.

Conrad pays tribute to Greenspan’s dismantling of Creasy.

But it was Greenspan’s cross-examination of Radler that destroyed the prosecution’s case. Conrad thought he started off badly: “Ponderous, repetitive, disorganized and excrutiating . . . we considered what to do with Greenspan.”

Yet Conrad later acknowledges that before Greenspan was finished with him, “Radler was smeared over the floor and walls.” Relentlessly, Greenspan nailed Radler as a liar and cheat.

On the first day he was cross-examined, Radler was cocky and thought he was in control. On the second day he was in disarray. He had a sweetheart deal with the prosecution on condition that he nail Conrad, but by the time Greenspan was done with him, he was pleading that he couldn’t remember things he had said the day before.

In its summation, the prosecution didn’t dare cite Radler’s testimony, where they once had boasted to the jury that Radler’s testimony would destroy Conrad.

Instead, it was Radler and the prosecution that were destroyed.

Conrad also expresses concern that during the trial, the two Eddies (Greenspan and Genson) “frequently slumbered in the afternoons . . . . Greenspan would awaken occasionally, like a crocodile whose nostrils have been tickled by a ripple on the water, and advise me to sit differently, that my posture was too erect for the jury, and then doze off again.”

Lawyers for the defence worried that the jury didn’t like Greenspan. This didn’t seem to worry Greenspan as it worried others. He was more concerned about the verdict than his popularity.

As it turned out. Conrad was found “Not Guilty” on nine of13 charges – the nine being issues that Greenspan had argued. I remember having lunch with Greenspan and his legal team the day the case went to the jury. Greenspan asked (as all lawyers do, of reporters) what I thought the verdict would be.

I thought Conrad would win 12 of the 13 charges, the exception being obstruction of justice in the removal of boxes from 10 Toronto street, simply because video images of carrying boxes looked bad. “My God, that case alone could be 14 years,” said Greenspan.

The boxes were the one issue where Greenspan didn’t represent Conrad in court — Eddie Genson did, but had to stop before he’d finished due to frail health. Conrad considered Genson “a Damon Runyon figure, obfuscatory, stammering, almost incomprehensible in his repetition and syntax and jangling accent – but clever.”

Whether or not the jury liked Greenspan was irrelevant – jurors were persuaded by his demolition of prosecution witnesses that Conrad Black was mostly innocent.

That doesn’t come across clearly in Conrad’s book, which is too bad because it’s a fascinating book about the trial and contains many delightfully descriptive insights and assessments.

Still, Conrad must have been an aggravating client—forever advising his lawyers, second-guessing them, recommending what to do, and criticizing when the unexpected happened.

As far as I’m concerned, the hero of that landmark trial was Greenspan who, I think, saved his client from the lynch-minded prosecution which did all it could to convict a man against whom there was no evidence that indicated guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Had it not been for Greenspan’s withering cross-examinations, it’s likely Conrad would have been sentenced to 24 or life, instead of the 78 months imposed by Judge Amy St. Eve, who Conrad seems to have respected as fair, courteous, in control.

The only ones to benefit were lawyers and, of course, Hollinger’s regulators who took exorbitant fees ($17,000 a day) to wreck a company that had been profitable for shareholders. And of course Richard Breedon, whose report was used to “get” Conrad, and who made some $50 million if Conrad’s assessment is correct.

Recent Posts by Peter Worthington



15 Comments so far ↓

  • TerryF98

    “Conrad (excuse the informality—but that how many of us think of him)”

    Many more of us think of him as “crook” or “fraudster”

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Conrad was found “Not Guilty” on nine of13 charges

    In other words, he was found guilty on 4 charges, but since he is rich he should never have been tried in front of subhuman peons at all. Abolish jury trials for the wealthy, establish a House of Rich, for rich people in Canada and whitewas….oops, try such cases there in front of their real peers.

    Right now, I got nothing against him, he did his time, he wants to write self serving books I don’t care, no way I would ever read one. I just don’t see what Worthington’s game is, does he really think that Black will be viewed as a man of the people unjustly railroaded? Or does he really think rich people deserve special status (you can’t try him, it will do damage to the company and hurt the poor shareholders who are all widows living on pensions…or some such nonsense)?

  • hisgirlfriday

    Sorry Friends of Conrad, but your friend illegally stole from shareholders, hurt hard-working, dedicated journalists and devastated a fine institution of the Fourth Estate in the Chicago Sun-Times.

    My only sadness in pondering the Conrad Black situation is that nobody has bothered to similarly prosecute Sam Zell for the fraud, theft and institutional destruction he wreaked upon the Chicago Tribune.

  • ktward

    I should first come clean and admit that I’ve not read a single paragraph of Worthington’s piece above. I imagine it’s just one more in a line of his slobbering slathers over the “innocent and unjustly maligned” Lord Black.

    Unlike Black, to my knowledge Worthington is not a criminal.
    But in every other respect they are unquestionably two of a kind: going way beyond run-of-the-mill snobbery they’re uniquely impressed with themselves, quite clearly consider their literarily erudite selves uniquely worthy of their social station, and despite Black’s gag-worthy, clueless tale of supposed “connection” with his fellow corrections inmates*, they both are utterly incapable of understanding the sensibilities of the rest of us, er, common folk.

    Not from lack of trying, but I’ve found it impossible to glean any socio-political insight or other worthwhile takeaway from either of them.

    * http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2011/08/vanity-fair-exclusive–conrad-black-on-life-in-prison–maintaini

  • Lonewolf

    Clearly, Conrad Black’s ego is so massive he thinks he can, simultaneously, out-lawyer lawyers, out-rule judges, out-prosecute district attorneys, out-investigate police officers, out-report reporters, and out-analyze forensic accountants.

    In fact, both he and Worthington, his sycophantic hagiographer, seem to think Black is a kind of aristocratic, educated Max Cady, from the movie “Cape Fear”, howling his defiance into the storm of public contempt:

    “I ain’t no white-trash piece of s**t! I’m better than you all! I can out-learn you! I can out-read you! I can out-think you! I can out-philozophize you! And I’m gonna outlast you! You think a couple of whacks to my guts is gonna get me down? It’s gonna take a hell of a lot more than that, Counselor, to prove you’re better than me! I am like God, and God is like me!!”
    One can only hope that Black, like Cady, receives an appropriate fate.

  • WestQuake

    I don’t know who’s to blame, the Great Man’s book editor or FrumForum for a mis-spelled word that is totally appropriate – “excrutiating”. You’ve made my day. BTW, I hope he enjoys his new castle when he is sprung from the Big House and deported to his British homeland – I’ve heard the Hebrides are delightful this time of year or was I thinking of “Las Malvinas”?

  • pclg

    Worthington’s grovelling is disturbing. Black is more full of s__t than Fibber McGee’s closet.

    I am not going to ask you go out and waste your money buying his “A Life In Progress”.

    I give you here, in his own words, passages from pages 14 and 15.

    “I was aware of the disruptive potential of covert operations. I conceived and unleashed a systematic campaign of harassment and clerical sabotage against the regime (Upper Canada College). The school had been structurally condemned and largely devolved to portable classrooms while the main building was replaced. This facilitated my insurrection. First I picked the lock of the portable classroom that held the records of the cadet corps, the schools battalion. I removed my card so I became a non-person and subtly altered various other cards to bring inconvenience and unjust charges of AWOL down on various people who I disliked or found ludicrous. My tampering was not so blatant that the authorities
    realized that there had been a violation, and I happily bedeviled their “paramilitary foolishness” as I called it, for the balance of the year.

    For good measure I lifted my card from the files of the athletic director, thus escaping the obligatory sports program and its sweaty locker room sequels.

    Next I struck more brazenly at the chief disciplinarian’s headquarters, picked his lock in the dead of the night (after my confirmation class, conducted by the school’s principal), rifled his desk, and selectively altered some of his records. I managed to have a couple of friends exonerated by removing the denunciations of them and even inculpated one person with whom I had clashed by inciting some denunciation for some truancy. As the end of the scholastic year approached, I prepared my coup de maitre (not to say coup de grace).

    The demolition and reconstruction of the main school building necessitated serving lunch in two shifts, and for the first shift, the school’s central office was left entirely deserted, but the papers that were frequently handled were left very accessibly in the locked room where three or four of the secretaries worked. I recruited three accomplices, one of whom had a wide range if keys and locks, and he quickly found a key that opened the office door. The moment that the door sprang open, I had a powerful sensation that unfathomable opportunities and dangers were opening also. Whatever happened to me I knew I had humbled the oppressive system. We removed a large number of the upcoming final examination question papers. As I had already, for my own curiosity and amusement, taken a copy of the academic records of every student in the upper school, I could easily identify those who would be prepared to pay most dearly for them. A brisk high-margin commerce ensued (a margin of 100%, as I had no cost of sales).

    I was going to reduce the school’s whole academic system, except for the senior matriculation class, to utter chaos while achieving a spectacular mark for myself having done virtually no work. I am neither proud nor ashamed of what happened. It was an awful system whose odiousness was compounded by banality and pretension, but I was becoming somewhat fiendish and in the end inconvenienced hundreds of unoffending people, students and faculty.

    One supplicant actually knelt before me, begging for an examination paper. My research in the school’s purloined records revealed that he had scored only 12 percent in in the subject in question at Easter and I recognized that if I acceded to his his request and his mark jumped to 90 percent, it would be too much for the dunciad who administered, so I affected not to know what my importune confrere was talking about.

    By the last week of the school year, I had almost completely undermined the system. Like the principal character in King Rat, I had more power than our jailers. I penetrated the Masters common Room and reassigned the faculty to supervisory tasks by typing up and substituting my own assignment sheet, assuring among other things that our examinations were presided by the least vigilant people available, the music and printing teachers, as I recall.

    It all ended abruptly on June 9, 1959. One of those to whom I had sold a paper was too slow-witted to memorize the answers or even write up a crib sheet that had nothing on it but the answers. When he was caught, it was obvious that he had prior knowledge of the questionnaire and when interrogated he sang like a canary flying backwards at three o’clock in the morning.”

    This is not rumor or speculation. This is the Con bragging about multiple illegal acts that he acknowledges affected many innocent people.

    Conrad Black is and has always been crookeder than a dogs hind leg and I will do everything in my power to ensure that this convicted criminal never be granted Canadian status in any form.

  • Graychin

    As best I can tell, no one believes that Black (I’ll use a more formal designation since he’s not one of my buddies) didn’t commit the crimes of which he was convicted. His defenders seem to think that Black shouldn’t have been prosecuted because… jail is for commoners. Or something.

    Should fear of “wrecking a company that has been profitable for shareholders” cause prosecutors to look the other way when they believe a crime has been committed? Of course! What matters more than profits? This is why so few wealthy people go to jail. That, and their ability to afford lawyers like Greenspan.

  • NRA Liberal

    “…Conrad (excuse the informality—but that how many of us think of him) …”

    I stopped there. Gag.

  • shediac

    Ah gee Peter maybe a little disclosure of your ‘love’ for Connie would help to put your rambling nonsense in the proper light. Connie is a crook, a convicted crook. Hard for you to swallow. Hey man maybe you should write a book on ‘the Lord’ interview the poor folks that had to work for him. Too bad you can’t interview the well known ‘widows’ that ‘gave’ him his start. Connie is brilliant, a brilliant crook! Oh by the way Radler is very well, good health, business booming, not blaming others for his problems….

  • rbottoms

    One of the longest posts ever, all in defense of a convicted swindler.

    He’s rich, why don’t you people just leave him alone???

    Waaaaah.

  • nuser

    Mr. Frum, did you refer to Black as a dear friend?

  • paul_gs

    I’ve just started reading A Matter of Principle and it is a fascinating read. His command of the English language makes each page entertaining and informative. I remain on the fence as to his guilt but Conrad Black’s arrogance is legendary, and I sometimes wonder if it is that character trait which did him in and not so much the illegal acts.

    Having followed much of the trial, Richard Breeden does indeed appear to be the bigger villain in this whole story. Breeden’s insanely over the top report alleging massive fraud was shown to be an almost complete fabrication yet resulted in the implosion of a profitable business with great losses to shareholders but massive financial gain to Richard Breeden. I am sure the book goes into greater detail on that subject and look forward to reading it.

    Ultimately, it is a sad story as Conrad Black truly loved newpapers and greatly increased their quality wherever he owned them whether in Canada, Israel, Britain or the USA.