Disgraced media mogul Conrad Black asserted in federal court on Tuesday that prosecutors improperly seized certain funds to block him from hiring the lawyers of his choice at trial.
The Canadian-born media tycoon was convicted in U.S. District Court in Chicago in 2007 for his role in a multi-million dollar fraud scheme in which he allegedly diverted funds from his media company for personal benefit. In the motion filed in Chicago Tuesday, the 67-year-old asks the court to vacate his conviction on the basis that the government trumped up charges against him to block his ability to retain the defense counsel of his choice, Williams & Connolly.
The court petition focuses on the government’s seizure of Black’s funds during its investigation. The motion contends that that the F.B.I. and Chicago U.S. Attorney’s Office improperly took money that was earmarked for hiring counsel to defend him during trial. Conrad argues that prosecutors knew of his intentions for the set-aside funds, and they exploited this by “knowingly filing an indictment against him with unsupported counts.” The charges against him had the “intended effect” of blocking Black from challenging the prosecution’s probable cause for the siezure until after the trial, the motion states.
Ultimately Black was acquitted of the counts related to the seizure and the funds were returned.
“But the damage was done,” the motion asserts. “The petitioner was prevented from retaining counsel of choice, as was guaranteed to him under the Sixth Amendment, and prevented from any pretrial review of the same by the government’s deliberate – and wrongful – conduct.”
The motion contends that prosecutors in their “deceptive” affidavit “spun a tale of fraud” surrounding the purchase and transfer of his Manhattan apartment between Black and his company. Black sold the apartment for $9 million with the intention of using that money to foot the bill for his attorney, he says. Because those funds were unavailable during the trial, he was unlawfully denied the right to counsel, he argues.
The motion points to the investigators behind the affidavit: FBI Special Agent Mark A. Coleman and Chicago Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric Sussman and Robert Kent.
It states that the document “misrepresented critical factual and economic terms,” and ultimately submitted an affidavit “fraught with omissions that purportedly provided evidence of a crime that did not occur.”
After trial, Black was sentenced to 78 months in prison. However, the Supreme Court threw out some of the charges against him after he had served 29 months. The high court ruled that the “honest services” provision in the fraud statute had been misused in the case. Black was resentenced last June to 42 months in prison, but he was credited for the months he had already spent behind bars. He was released from federal prison in Florida just last month, and he has since returned to his Toronto home.
The Chicago U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment.