A Conrad Black Christmas
An early Christmas card from The Dark Avenger reminded me that the day of reckoning is at hand for Lord Conrad Black. Fans of Lord Jeff Archer's three-volume Prison Diaries are no doubt hoping for Lord Black of Statesville to pen a similar tome of life in chokey:
Lord Black of Crossharbour, the disgraced media baron and former Daily Telegraph proprietor, is facing not only a prison sentence but a renewed legal onslaught by the US authorities that could financially ruin him.
Tomorrow the peer goes back to court in Chicago, where he was found guilty in July of fraud and obstruction of justice. Apart from a jail term, he is likely to have a multimillion-dollar fine imposed on him, but he also faces the resurrection of a civil lawsuit to claw back millions in ill-gotten gains that could leave him with nothing.
As part of the criminal case, prosecutors are already trying to seize the Palm Beach mansion where Black has been holed up with his wife, Barbara Amiel, for the past five months. The judge, Amy St Eve, will decide in the morning whether he should forfeit the property, which the US government alleges was renovated using cash stolen from the peer's stock market-listed company, Hollinger International. Prosecutors also want $8.5m (£4.2m) in proceeds from the sale of his New York apartment. The FBI seized the cheque before it was handed to Black.
Now, financial regulators are planning to come after the peer for more money they say he stole from his Hollinger International newspaper company, putting pressure on a fortune that has already been whittled down by legal fees. The civil lawsuit, filed by the Wall Street watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission, was frozen in 2005 when it became clear that the peer would be facing criminal charges.
Legal experts say Black is likely to be allowed a final Christmas with his family before being told to report to prison in the new year. Prosecutors will argue he should spend up to 24 years in jail, but a pre-sentence report suggested a term nearer to five years. The peer told Canadian TV this week that "prison would be a bore, but quite endurable".
Black will plead with the judge, Amy St Eve, to be allowed to serve his sentence in a minimum-security jail close to the Canadian border, to cushion the blow of swapping his life of luxury for a prison dormitory. While non-Americans are not usually allowed to serve their time in the lowest-security institutions, Black's lawyers say that the disgraced peer is neither planning to abscond nor likely to be a risk to the public.
Rather, he is planning to immerse himself in writing and his continuing legal fight, and a location close to Canada would allow easy visits not just from his family but also from his lawyers. A minimum-security jail would impose fewer restrictions on his movements and, unlike a low-security prison, it would have no armed perimeter patrols and possibly no fence at all.
For the fallen media baron, the change of lifestyle will be harsh. Whatever the security level of the prison, inmates are required to work at tasks such as washing windows or mopping floors.
Lady Amiel will plead with the judge to prohibit all conjugal visits, while David Frum will do the opposite.
Black has got to be disappointed that he was unable to score the celebrity endorsements penned by the Friends of Scooter Libby. Connie apparently was only able to score sentencing letters from such B-listers as a Canadian CEO, one of his domsestic staff, a wingnut priest and his family. Wingnut welfare doesn't buy much loyalty these days.