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Lord Black's sentence is no victory

He's stubborn, proud and strong, and appears to believe - to his very core - that he's been wronged. He's been denounced plenty, but manages to maintain perfect equilibrium. Now he faces 61/2 years in prison. Killers can get off more lightly. So why did it have to come to this?

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

It is a bit much, some of the legal pundits notwithstanding, to consider Conrad Black's sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice yesterday any sort of victory.

He may be going to jail for only 6½ years - the "only" surely would not be his word - instead of the much longer period prosecutors were seeking, and he may not have to report until March, and his likely destination may be one of the best of its type, but he is going to jail, and he will serve 85 per cent of that time.

Almost four years ago, I saw a woman named Elizabeth Cao walk out of a Toronto courtroom to serve a two-year sentence in her own home. Her crime?

Well, Ms. Cao, fed up with the crying of her five-week-old daughter Sara, shook her to death (and three times prevented a visiting friend, who noticed the baby was gurgling strangely and bleeding from her nose and mouth) from calling 911.

Originally charged with second-degree murder, Ms. Cao struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Between her arrest and her release on bail, she had served a cruel 22 days in jail, so as the presiding judge noted, "Given the nature of her loss, it hardly seems necessary to provide explicit or further acknowledgment of the harm she caused." And he didn't.

Then he added, "I hope things go well."

Now, there was a felon who won big. That was a victory, a veritable kiss on the lips. Not yesterday's sentence in Chicago.

What I felt then and again yesterday was regret, in Ms. Cao's case that the sentence was so mild and that she had been spared the denunciation that is supposed to be a part of the sentencing process, and in Lord Black's, I suppose, that it ever came to this. He has been denounced plenty, not that it appears to dent his confidence or view of himself.

It is difficult to quibble with the trial he got (at the hands of Judge Amy St. Eve, it was even and fair) or the sentence (at the low end even of the lowest way of figuring it), though easy to take issue with the zeal with which he was prosecuted. I always thought that the case more properly belonged at the securities commission than in a criminal court.

Though he never did this in court - Lord Black didn't testify at trial and yesterday made only the briefest of statements - in countless public statements and interviews, he has protested his innocence loudly and constantly and in typical thundering language throughout the whole process.

Frankly, that is hardly unique, there being no guilty men in prison or on the way there.

In this, Lord Black merely joins the long lineup of felons who routinely maintain their innocence despite overwhelming evidence and court findings to the contrary.

With few exceptions - the handful who turn out to have been wrongfully convicted - most of those who yell the loudest are guilty as hell, and know they are guilty as hell. They mouth these protestations either as the knee-jerk response to authority, which in many cases has marked their whole lives, or as a small bone for steadfast family and friends who might not stand by them (and visit them in the joint) otherwise.

Here, Lord Black is different, in that he appears to believe to his very core that he has been wronged, and, the careful findings of his jury notwithstanding, that he did nothing improper, let alone illegal.

Indeed, the man he most resembles now is Robert Latimer, the taciturn Saskatchewan farmer who in 1993 killed his severely disabled daughter, Tracy, and who last week failed in his first bid to win day parole.

At his parole hearing, Mr. Latimer refused to admit what he did was wrong, again characterized, as he has always, what he did as an act of mercy, and at one point said, "I still don't feel guilty." Correctly or not, the board found that his lack of insight into his crime - this means his refusal to accept responsibility or express remorse - meant that he wasn't yet ready to be paroled.

It is clear that Mr. Latimer believes not only that what he did was absolutely right, but also that he had the absolute right to do it, to leave his daughter in the cab of his truck, feed a length of hose into it, start the engine and watch from the bed of the truck as Tracy inhaled carbon monoxide until she died. At bottom, his position was that he knew better than the law or the courts.

Mr. Latimer is also sufficiently proud, stubborn and internally strong that he was unwilling to feign regret purely for the purposes of getting out of jail.

Sound familiar?

Lord Black too believes that he was absolutely right to run Hollinger International Inc., as he and his co-convicted fellows did (which is as though it were their private trust, with no accountability owed the shareholders, whom he treated with disdain and at first batted away like bothersome flies) but also that he had the absolute right to do it; after all, it was his company. And Lord Black is every bit as stubborn, proud and strong as is Mr. Latimer, with greater resources, more expensive lawyers, more powerful allies and a vastly superior vocabulary.

Mr. Latimer's parole officer described him as a model prisoner who didn't need counselling. Fast forward about 6½ years, and bets are Lord Black's parole officer will be saying something similar, if not in more glowing terms. I've no doubt he will be the best damn inmate the U.S. federal prison system has ever seen, that he will write columns from jail and probably a book or two, and maintain his equilibrium. But what a bloody waste.

cblatchford@globeandmail.com

Other jailed tycoons

Bernard EbbersPosition Founder and CEO, WorldComCrime Misleading regulators and investors leading to the collapse of WorldCom and the loss of

$11-billion to investorsTime 25 years

Dennis KozlowskiPosition CEO, Tyco InternationalCrime Arranging $150-million (U.S.) in unauthorized bonuses and defrauding investors of more than $400-millionTime Eight years and four months - 25 years

Samuel WaksalPosition Founder and CEO,

ImClone SystemsCrime Insider trading and tax evasionTime Seven years and three months

Jeffrey SkillingPosition CEO, EnronCrime Accounting fraud under his watch led to the collapse of the company and a more than $60-billion loss to investorsTime 24 years and four months

Martha StewartPosition Founder, Martha

Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.Crime Lying to federal investigators in connection with a December, 2001, sale of ImClone Systems Inc. stock in which she avoided $45,673 in lossesTime Five months

Andrew WiederhornPosition Chairman, CEO, treasurer and secretary, Fog Cutter Capital Group Inc. of Portland, Ore.Crime Filing a false tax return and giving an illegal gratuity to a business associate as an officer of Wilshire Financial Services Group Inc.Time 18 months

Steve MaddenPosition Former CEO of footwear firm Steven Madden Ltd.Crime Securities fraud and money launderingTime 41 months

Andrew FastowPosition CFO, EnronCrime Wire and securities fraudTime 10 yearsLea FastowPosition Assistant treasurer at Enron, wife of Andrew FastowCrime Misdemeanour tax crimeTime One year

Martin GrassPosition CEO of Rite Aid Corp.Crime Accounting fraudTime Eight years

John and Timothy RigasPositions John founded

Adelphia Communications Corp., his son Timothy was CFOCrime Multiple counts of fraud and conspiracyTime John Rigas was sentenced to 15 years, Timothy to 20 years

Jamie OlisPosition VP of finance and

attorney for Dynegy Inc.Crime Accounting fraudTime 24 years

Michael MilkenPosition Former head of junk bond trading at Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc.Crime Six counts of securities-

related offences, including conspiracy, helping to file false information with the SEC and mail fraudTime 10 years

Source: Staff

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