I haven’t written much about the Conrad Black fraud trial in Chicago, for a good reason. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about Lord Tubby of Crossharbour being dragged into court. The bones of the story are uncomplicated, unlike Conrad Black. The deal is, stock holders are pissed that Black and his management team led what could be characterized as a lavish lifestyle, on the stockholder’s dime. There are allegations of very lucrative non-compete payments and other accounting shenanigans that are also on the table.
So far, Conrad himself has not testified and you shouldn’t read anything into that. Discretion is sometimes the better part of Valor when it comes to Justice, especially in a US courtroom with a jury of middle-class folks hearing testimony from a learned, one-time, British Peer. Black is so erudite in his common speech that even smart people have to reach for the dictionary listening to him talk.
What would this mean to a typical US juror? Black might as well be speaking Portuguese dockworker slang to them, so it is in the best interests of Conrad Black, for Conrad Black to not talk.
By way of disclosure, I used to work for a company owned by Conrad Black (Standard Broadcasting/CJOH-TV) and I have actually met the man and shaken his paw. End of Disclosure.
Back in the Day, among the many companies that Argus, or Hollinger-Argus, or any of the other several hundreds of companies that Conrad Black owns, or controls, was a little joint called Dominion Stores. The US translation would be Safeway, or Kroger’s. In 1986 Conrad decided that the pension plans at Dominion Stores were making too much money.
This was also true at Standard Broadcasting. So, Conrad decided that the excess money, or overfunded liability of the pension plans, were his to do with as he so saw fit. Through some backchannel knowledge of a couple of the players involved in the running of the Standard Broadcasting Pension Plan, the pension was overfunded to the tune of $22 million. Conrad Black scooped that up right promptly. His Dominion Stores Pension draining netted significantly more: $62 million. The Dominion Stores union sued for return of the money. After taking it all the way to the Supreme Court, Black was ordered to give it back.
At one time Conrad Black owned some of the larges newspapers in the world, about 400 of them, and was a full-tilt Baron Black of Crossharbour, having renounced his Canadian citizenship to gather that ermine-cloaked honour.
Fast forward to March 17th of this year and Conrad Black is in court up on a stack of charges, including criminal fraud, racketeering, obstruction of justice, money laundering and wire fraud. To say that Conrad Black is in trouble, is up to the court to decide.
Perhaps the most important part of the whole Conrad Black saga, is that he treated the stockholders like "little people" who were not to intrude upon his grandeur. I know from his past record he treated employees like "little people" or pond scum, depending on his whims of the moment. His intellect, such as it is, consists of using a thesaurus and posing as a Great Thinker. The word that comes most readily to mind is bloviator.
The other one is no noblesse oblige. There is a responsibility of those of high birth or positions of power to act with honour, kindliness and generosity. Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate of the 1920’s, besides being wealthier than the dreams of avarice, also funded several hundred public libraries and foundations to carry on works for the good of all. That would be an example of noblesse oblige. The Prince of Wales’ Trust would be another.
President Jo Jo The Idiot Boy is an equivalent of having all kinds of noblesse, but absolutely no oblige, right up there with Conrad Black.
A great man being brought low? That’s up to the jury. I merely would like to see him sentenced to 15 years working at Wal-Mart as a greeter, having to live on minimum wage in a three-floor walkup in a disreputable part of Hamilton.
Or, used as a golf target at a driving range. Either or. I’m not fussy.