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May 19, 2009

SCOTUS takes up the honest services issue

ConradBlack Well now, that certainly did not take long, now did it?

Just a week after former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling appealed his criminal conviction and monstrous 24-year prison sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court on an allegedly erroneous application of the honest services wire-fraud statute (18 U.S.C. § 1346), the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of former Hollinger International chairman Conrad Black on similar grounds. The briefs in support and opposition to Black's petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court can be reviewed here.

Black's conviction revolves around allegations that he diverted about $6 million from Hollinger International, which owned the Sun-Times and a number of other newspapers. He and two other former executives whose appeals will also be heard by the Supreme Court -- former Hollinger CFO John Boultbee and corporate counsel Mark Kipnis -- were convicted of three counts of mail fraud based on the theory that they improperly arranged the transfer of $5.5 million from a Hollinger subsidiary under sham non-compete agreements.

The high court's decision to hear Black's appeal on the honest services wire fraud issue leaves the Skilling petition somewhat in limbo. Although Skilling's appeal arguably frames the issue better than Black's, the Court could simply carry Skilling's petition along with Black's appeal and then remand Skilling's case to the Fifth Circuit once it has adjudicated Black's appeal.

But regardless whether the Supreme Court grants cert in Skilling's appeal, the Court's decision to hear Black's appeal is very good news for Skilling.

By the way, as if on cue, Lord Black from his prison cell provides this entertaining evisceration of the forces that prevented him from selling for the benefit of shareholders the now bankrupt and worthless Chicago Sun-Times. Here's a taste of Lord Black's analysis of the situation:

[Former Bush I administration SEC chairman Richard] Breeden, whose career highlights include whitewashing George W. Bush on his lucrative insider trade in Harken Energy shares before the Gulf War in 1991, while he was Bush Sr.'s SEC chairman, and his immensely well-paid stints as special monitor or counsel of KPMG, WorldCom, and Fannie Mae, produced his special committee report in August 2005. (He has since, with no background at all, set up an offshore hedge fund and has promptly lost more than half his investors' money.)

The report had cost over $100 million, accused us of a $500 million kleptocracy, and promised a future of unheard-of profitability for the company. On this, Breeden has delivered, as no profit has been heard of since he usurped the management. He also promised $1 billion of recoveries for the shareholders, and has instead wiped them out; $2 billion from the pockets and retirement and college funds of scores of thousands of people.

His report did fulfill his objective of generating criminal charges that, if substantially successful, could vacate or at least mitigate my $1 billion libel suits against him, the largest defamation claims in Canadian history.

Lord Black is a genuine piece of work.

Posted by Tom at May 19, 2009 12:01 AM |


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