Former media baron Conrad Black pleaded not guilty to federal fraud charges Thursday in connection with the alleged looting of more than $80 million from the Hollinger International Inc. newspaper empire he once controlled.
The 61-year-old Black was arraigned in U.S. District Court, two weeks after being indicted with three other former Hollinger executives and accused of cheating on taxes and pilfering millions from the company to support a lavish lifestyle.
Black, who until recently controlled a large stable of newspapers from Chicago to London to Jerusalem, lambasted the charges at an appearance in his home city of Toronto last week, calling them "absolute nonsense" and "one massive smear job from A to Z."
Black's arraignment had been postponed twice and U.S. prosecutors were ready with arrest warrants and planned to launch extradition proceedings if needed. But the combative Black, who renounced his Canadian citizenship to accept a British lordship as owner of The Daily Telegraph, appeared Thursday in court in Chicago.
Black _ formally Lord Black of Crossharbour in the United Kingdom _ is represented in the case by well known Chicago defense attorneys Edward Genson and Marc Martin. Both attorneys have served as defense counsels for lobbyist Larry Warner, the co-defendant in the ongoing federal racketeering trial involving former Illinois Governor George Ryan. Toronto attorney Edward Greenspan also represents Black.
Black's Canadian associate Peter Atkinson, 58, also pleaded not guilty Thursday to the indictment. Atkinson was Hollinger's executive vice president and oversaw legal affairs for the company.
John A. "Jack" Boultbee, 62, the company's former chief financial officer, skipped his scheduled arraignment on Wednesday. Former Hollinger attorney Mark Kipnis, pleaded not guilty a day earlier. Black faces a maximum of 40 years in prison if convicted on all eight counts. A trial isn't expected to start for at least six months.
The indictment charged that he and his associates looted the company through a series of fraudulent payments linked to Hollinger International's sale of several hundred U.S. and Canadian publishing properties. Hollinger owns the Chicago Sun-Times and other publications in North America and formerly controlled The Daily Telegraph of London and the Jerusalem Post.
The star witness in the case is expected to be former Sun-Times publisher David Radler, who pleaded guilty in September to charges of taking part in a scheme to siphon off $32 million (Ђ27.25 million) in proceeds from the sale of newspaper properties in the United States and Canada through bogus contracts with purchasers, the AP reported. Radler, Black's top deputy and longtime business partner, agreed to cooperate with the government. A.M.