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Black Watch

By Matt Wood in News on Mar 12, 2007 3:42PM

chicagoist_200703_black.jpgWho's this Conrad Black, and why is he on trial again? The local media is cranking up its hype machine for a trial that has people around the world excited, but leaves many Chicagoans scratching their heads and saying, "Lord Who?"

Conrad Black, a.k.a. Lord Black of Crossharbour, is the former CEO of Hollinger International, a media conglomerate that includes the Sun-Times. He quit in 2003 amid charges that he bilked the company for $84 million, including throwing a $42,000 birthday party for his wife (maybe that's why he sent her 11,000 emails). His trial starts this Wednesday at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. If convicted, he could face 20 years in a jail cell nicer than your house and $7 million in fines, which he will pay out of his change dish from the dresser. That's not the scary part though: a conviction probably also means that the Sun-Times Media Group will slap him with a $542 million civil suit.

Why should you care? Black's alleged malfeasance didn't devastate the local economy like Kenny Boy's machinations down at Enron, and it doesn't have the relevancy of our former Governor being convicted on corruption charges. But as Crain's notes, the trial could be rather salacious, as we get to hear all the dirty details of high-society folks raiding the company coffers. Lord Black is rather famous in his native Canada and London, and more than 400 foreign journalists are expected to be in town to cover the trial. While he was never a society player here, he is quite a loudmouth, and promises to provide some juicy sound bites about how he's being persecuted. And Sun-Times staffers who lost their jobs or received piddling pay increases during Black's reign might have a bit of score to settle, not to mention the company's shareholders who watched him squander their investments.

Whether you care about all this or not, it's going to be a big deal. We suggest you read the excellent primer in the Sun-Times today so you at least know what everyone in the media, if not your friends and co-workers, are talking about.

Image from CBC News.