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Justices say no to second appeal of convicted media executive

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
  • Conrad Black wants his fraud and obstruction of justice convictions nullified
  • The Supreme Court last summer had ordered a lower court to reconsider
  • This time, without comment, they refused to intervene

Washington (CNN) -- The Supreme Court took a pass Tuesday on revisiting the corporate fraud conviction of onetime media executive Conrad Black.

The justices last summer had opened the door slightly in Black's favor, dismissing his 2007 conviction and ordering a lower court to reconsider the matter. The high court upheld the continued use of a popular federal prosecution tool known as "honest services," but limited when it can be used against business executives and politicians.

A Chicago-based federal appeals court concluded last fall that a jury would have found Black guilty on some counts. Fraud and obstruction of justice charges were upheld.

Black then went back this spring to the Supreme Court to get those new convictions set aside. But the justices without comment have now refused to intervene.

The colorful former chairman and chief executive of the Hollinger International media company and two other former executives were originally accused of mail and wire fraud in connection with accepting improper payments of $5.5 million from a Hollinger subsidiary.

The defendants claimed the alleged fraud produced no harm to the company, which once owned a range of newspapers in the United States and Canada, including the Chicago Sun Times, the Jerusalem Post and London's Daily telegraph.

His attorneys told the high court last year that company officers had simply sought an indirect, though legal, way around paying Canadian income taxes.

Prosecutors allege the $5.5 million was not disclosed as required on federal securities forms, and that it belonged to Hollinger shareholders. The government said Black and other defendants supported a lavish lifestyle through the financial diversion scheme.

Black, a Canadian by birth, has written a number of historical books and essays, including biographies of Richard Nixon and Franklin Roosevelt. He had served 26 months of a 6.5-year sentence in federal prison, and had sought a presidential pardon. He was freed on bail last July after the Supreme Court's temporary ruling in his favor. He is likely to be returned to prison when a federal judge resentences Black next month.

The federal statute in question prohibits schemes to deprive stakeholders or customers of the intangible right of honest services. The "honest services fraud" argument also has been used to convict ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, onetime HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, and former governors Don Siegelman of Alabama and George Ryan of Illinois.

Groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have argued that the law can invite abuse by headline-grabbing prosecutors.

The case is Black v. U.S. (10-1038).