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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 July 2007, 10:42 GMT 11:42 UK
Mafia puts Conrad Black in the shade
By Nils Blythe
Business correspondent, BBC News, Chicago

Media baron Conrad Black's fate is hanging in the balance, as the jury consider whether he is guilty of fraud and what the US authorities call "racketeering".

Conrad Black
Conrad Black could go to jail for the rest of his life

But while the former chief executive of the Hollinger press empire waits to hear whether he will go to jail, a new trial has begun in the same court building.

Four former mafia bosses stand accused of a lifetime of involvement in organised crime.

They are all in their 60s and 70s. The oldest - Joey "the Clown" Lombardo - is 78.

The offences alleged include 18 murders.

The trial has been dubbed Family Secrets by the US press, because two of the key witnesses are the son and brother of one of the accused.

It's a landmark case, according to Jim Wagner, president of the Chicago Crime Commission, because of the sheer number of crimes of which the men stand accused.

Media split

The American media have turned up in force to cover the Family Secrets trial, which is taking place on the 25th floor of the dark skyscraper which houses the Federal courts in Chicago.

Joey "the Clown" Lombardo
Joey Lombardo is the oldest defendant in the mob trial

Meanwhile, the Canadian and British media wait outside the Conrad Black trial courtroom 13 floors below.

Most British newspapers have a reporter in Chicago to cover that verdict, whenever it comes. The Canadian media are even more heavily represented.

Conrad Black was born into a wealthy Canadian family and rapidly built his own business empire. He and his business partner, David Radler, took over numerous Canadian newspapers.

They then took control of the ailing Telegraph newspapers in Britain, giving Conrad Black a position of real influence in British politics.

He was made a British peer in 2001 and gave up his Canadian citizenship, to the consternation of some Canadians.

Curious connection

Lord Black finds himself on trial in Chicago because the company he built up, Hollinger International, was based in the city.

The accusation against him is that he defrauded company shareholders out of millions of dollars, by taking fees which were not properly authorised by the board of directors.

Journalists covering the Conrad Black trial
Canadian and UK media await the Black trial's outcome

David Radler has pleaded guilty to a single charge in return for a sentence of 29 months in jail, of which he is only likely to serve six months.

He gave evidence against Lord Black, but was attacked by defence lawyers as a "serial liar".

The most serious charge against Lord Black is racketeering, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in jail.

The prosecution claim that he ran Hollinger International as a "criminal enterprise" as defined by Rico - the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. This US law was introduced as a way of prosecuting organised crime families.

So there is a curious connection between the two big trials in Chicago. Alleged murderers and mobsters are on trial on the 25th floor. A former media mogul is on trial on the 12th floor, under a law designed to prosecute the mob.

Lord Black is 62 - and if found guilty of racketeering and other offences, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars.

It is the same fate as that which awaits the alleged murderers in the court upstairs.

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