- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

CHICAGO (AP) — Former media mogul Conrad Black’s trial began yesterday with the judge questioning a man who lost money in the WorldCom debacle, a woman whose investments went sour and two dozen other prospective jurors.

They were among 27 prospective jurors for the trial of the millionaire former press lord accused of siphoning $84 million from the Hollinger International media empire.

Besides the man who lost money in the $3.8 billion WorldCom scandal, U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve questioned a woman who said on her pretrial questionnaire she distrusted people who make millions of dollars.

“No one receives that much money out of the blue for no reason,” she said. Another woman said when asked about her impression of Mr. Black: “Whenever I see his picture he seems to be dressed up in a tuxedo.”

Mr. Black, 62, is charged with racketeering and other offenses reputedly committed as chairman of the Hollinger International newspaper holding company. He was forced out as chief executive officer in 2003 and ousted as chairman months later amid a storm of shareholder lawsuits and a criminal investigation.

Mr. Hollinger once owned the Chicago Sun-Times, the Toronto-based National Post, the Daily Telegraph of London and the Jerusalem Post, as well as hundreds of community newspapers. The Toronto, London and Jerusalem papers have been sold and the company name has been changed to Sun-Times Media Group.

Mr. Black is accused of selling off hundreds of community newspapers in the United States and Canada and pocketing payments from the buyers. Prosecutors say Hollinger should have gotten the money paid in return for promises not to compete in markets where the newspapers circulated.

Mr. Black also is charged with billing the shareholders for a two-week trip to the island of Bora Bora and most of a $62,000 birthday party for his wife. Three other former Hollinger executives are on trial as well.

A horde of reporters and camera crews were waiting for Mr. Black when he arrived at the courthouse yesterday. But he slipped past them unnoticed, apparently while they focused on the arrival of his lawyers.

The Canadian-born Mr. Black, author of an acclaimed biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, is known for his outspoken, aristocratic manner that at times verges into what has been described as arrogance and pomposity.

He gave up his Canadian citizenship to become a full-fledged British baron — Lord Black of Crossharbour — but now wants that citizenship back.

Mr. Black sat calmly at the defense table listening to the questioning. His wife, the conservative writer Barbara Amiel Black, sat in the first row and took notes in a reporter’s notebook.

After the morning session, they had a brown bag lunch with their lawyers in a witness room adjacent to the courtroom rather than brave a media storm in the downstairs lobby.

Legal analysts say his defense team headed by Edward Greenspan of Toronto and Edward M. Genson of Chicago is guaranteed to be looking for upscale jurors with comfortable salaries and lifestyles.

But they found little of that among the prospective jurors who were questioned.

Judge St. Eve repeatedly instructed the prospective jurors that there is nothing illegal about making big money or obtaining better tax treatment.

One woman said there was nothing wrong with making a lot of money.

“If that’s typical for the line of work they’re in — that’s fine,” said the woman who identified herself as a mother of three.

Judge St. Eve reminded a different woman that she had said on her pretrial questionnaire that people who receive large amounts of money “may have been paid off for some kind of misconduct.”

The judge asked several prospective jurors if they would hold it against the defendants if they “heard that these defendants received tens of millions of dollars.”

“Making a lot of money is not an element of any crime in itself,” Judge St. Eve said. Most prospective jurors said they could be fair.

Prosecutors estimate the trial could take three to four months. If convicted, Mr. Black could face as much as 101 years behind bars, although Judge St. Eve will decide the sentence and could give him much less.

The judge, a former federal prosecutor, said she hopes to have a jury sworn in by the end of the day today with opening statements Monday.

One prospective juror was asked whether she had read anything about the case in the newspaper and said she had seen an article in the Chicago Sun-Times saying that Judge St. Eve “ran a tight ship” in her courtroom.

“A tight ship is a good thing, isn’t it?” Judge St. Eve said.

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