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Ex-media mogul Conrad Black ordered back to prison; wife faints

Conrad Black leaves with his wife BarbarAmiel from Dirksen Federal Building after being resentenced Friday June 24  2011. |

Conrad Black leaves with his wife, Barbara Amiel, from the Dirksen Federal Building after being resentenced, Friday, June 24 , 2011. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

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Updated: June 25, 2011 9:10AM

In a dramatic ending to a storied legal saga, onetime powerful media baron Conrad Black was ordered Friday to again take up residence behind prison walls, leading his wife to collapse on a courtroom bench.

Barbara Amiel Black put her hand to her mouth, then fainted, slumping to her left side while still seated. She collapsed just as U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve imposed a sentence that would mean about 13 more months behind bars for the socialite’s husband.

Barbara Black, who once called a reporter a “slut” and often decried the “vermin” media, had dabbed her eyes with a tissue a few times during the re-sentencing hearing that lasted more than three hours. Security rushed to her aid as St. Eve finalized the details of Conrad Black’s sentence. Donning sunglasses, looking far younger than her 70 years and wrapped in her husband’s arm, Barbara Black later walked gingerly out of court in a white, pleated skirt– after paramedics and an ambulance left the courthouse. She summed up why she fainted: “too little sleep.”

Conrad Black, who once headed a vast media empire and is a member of Britain’s House of Lords, was convicted in 2007 and sentenced to 6 1/2 years for defrauding investors in Hollinger International Inc., former owner of the Chicago Sun-Times. After serving 29 months in a Florida prison, he was released on bond in 2010 as his appeal rose to the U.S. Supreme Court. A federal appeals panel eventually reversed two of four counts against him and gave prosecutors the option of retrying those. They declined. St. Eve re-sentenced Black on two remaining counts of fraud and obstruction of justice.

The lengthy sentencing hearing featured a 20-minute recitation by Conrad Black who lashed out at prosecutors and reporters alike. He quoted Mark Twain as well as “If” by Rudyard Kipling – the same poem quoted by one Rod Blagojevich the day the former governor announced he wouldn’t resign after his 2008 arrest. In the same courthouse, a jury still ponders Blagojevich’s fate.

Black expressed regret -- of other people’s actions.

“I regret I was over-trusting of the integrity of one of my colleagues,” he said, in an apparent reference to former Sun-Times publisher David Radler, the government’s main trial witness. Black said he regretted how others later plundered Hollinger, leading it to bankruptcy, rejecting the prosecution’s contention that it was he who destroyed the media company.

The burly, silver-haired author and historian, wearing a snug suit-coat, called the prosecution’s original case against him “massive” and “over-reaching,” and a direct result of what he called a libelous 2004 report by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that “tainted the wells of pubic opinion.” He said he’d have to be “barking mad” to purposely obstruct justice by smuggling boxes out of his office in front of video surveillance cameras he had installed.

“I’ve always tried to take success like a gentleman and disappointment like a man,” Black told St. Eve.

His lawyers said Black has been living in a hotel. In April, he sold his Palm Beach mansion for some $23 million.

Prosecutors gave a different take, saying Black’s crimes were real and that his lawyers had “laid it on thick” while describing Black’s mentoring and tutoring of inmates in prison.

“His crimes had a major impact,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Porter said in court. “The company was destroyed.”

Porter after court said the government saw no remorse from Black.

“He made pretty clear he is not sorry or contrite for what he did with respect to this company,” she said. “The defendant has never accepted responsibility for his own conduct, his own actions and the consequences they had on this company, which were very extreme.”

St. Eve’s resentence of 42 months was a break from the original 78 months she handed him. With credit for the 29 months he served, that leaves Black with a little over a year behind bars.

Because the Canadian-born Black is not a U.S. citizen, he does not qualify for time in a halfway house and cannot serve his time in a prison camp, elements included in St. Eve’s calculus, she said. She said the overwhelming letters from prison inmates saying Black’s tutoring and mentoring had positive effects on their lives had swayed her, as well as his age, 66, and health. Also a factor was that once released from prison, Black’s conviction meant he would not be able to reside in the United States, where his daughter lives.

“You have been punished in other ways, given your stature, the fall,” St. Eve said, referencing his onetime high society lifestyle. “I still shake my head as to why you engaged in this conduct. Nobody is above the law, including you – no matter what your stature.”

Black is to report to prison in six weeks but it was unclear if he would report to a different prison.

After court, Black stepped into the back of a car and characterized his sentence simply: “not surprised.”

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