Ex-media mogul Conrad Black back in Canada

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Associated Press

Posted on May 4, 2012 at 4:31 PM

Updated Friday, May 4 at 4:32 PM

TORONTO (AP) — Former media mogul Conrad Black arrived at his sprawling Toronto estate on Friday just hours after being released from U.S prison.

Black left a federal prison outside Miami early Friday after serving about three years for defrauding investors. Black and his wife Barbara Amiel were spotted kissing, playing with their dogs and roaming the grounds of Black's home in Toronto's posh Bridle Path neighborhood.

Amiel later approached the front gates of the estate to collect her two dogs. She said it was difficult to comprehend the lost years but said she was very happy.

"It has not been easy. We'll be fine," Amiel said.

Black, whose empire once included the Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph of London, The Jerusalem Post and small papers across the U.S. and Canada, had returned to prison last September to finish serving his sentence.

A former member of the British House of Lords, he had been sentenced to more than six years in prison after his 2007 conviction in Chicago, but had then been released on bail two years later to pursue an appeal that was partially successful. A judge reduced his sentence to three years and he returned to prison last September. With time off for good behavior, he has completed his sentence.

Despite the fact Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 to accept a British peerage, the Canadian government granted his application for a one-year temporary resident permit, which allowed him to return to Canada.

Earl Cherniak, Black's Toronto-based lawyer, said Black just wants to rest.

"The man's been in prison for I don't know how long. He wants to decompress," he said. "I mean he's been in a cell with two other people and one toilet. Would you want to be out partying tonight? I don't think so."

Black and his wife have long been a prominent couple on the social circuit, partying with such celebrities as Elton John and Donald Trump.

There's a chance he could be seen partying soon. Black's memoir, "A Matter of Principle," is a finalist for Canada's National Business Book Award. The book details his legal fight against U.S. authorities. The award will be presented at the Ritz Carlton Toronto hotel later this month.

Postmedia chief executive Paul Godfrey, who has Black write for Postmedia's National Post newspaper, hopes Black will continue to write columns for the paper as he did when he was in jail. Black founded the National Post.

Godfrey expects Black to be in Saturday's edition as he usually is.

"If he misses a week for any reason, he doesn't miss many I'll tell you that, we get calls. He's a very well read columnist. People who like or don't like him read him," Godfrey said. "He's been a colorful individual even throughout his troubled times. Even in quieter times I'm sure there will be a level of controversy that he will stir up by what he says, what he writes and what he does in business."

Black's big chance to quash his convictions arose in June 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court sharply curtailed the disputed "honest services" laws that underpinned part of the case against him.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago tossed out two of Black's fraud convictions last year, citing that landmark ruling. But it said one conviction for fraud and one for obstruction of justice were not affected by the Supreme Court's ruling. The fraud conviction, the judges concluded, involved Black and others taking $600,000 and had nothing to do with honest services. It was, they asserted, straightforward theft.

Black — who received the title of Lord Black of Crossharbour — was known for a grand lifestyle, including a $62,000 birthday party for his wife, a swanky apartment on Park Avenue in New York and a trip to the island of Bora Bora.

Black's three-month trial drew international attention, heightened by his sometimes haughty comments. When shareholders grumbled about the cost of the Bora Bora trip, he wrote a memo saying: "I'm not prepared to re-enact the French revolutionary renunciation of the rights of the nobility."

At the core of the honest-services charges against Black was his strategy, starting in 1998, of selling off the bulk of the small community papers, which were published in smaller cities across the United States and Canada.

Black and other Hollinger executives received millions of dollars in payments from the companies that bought the community papers in return for promises that they would not return to compete with the new owners.

Prosecutors said the executives pocketed the money, which they said belonged to shareholders, without telling Hollinger's board of directors.

At his resentencing hearing last year, several inmates wrote letters to the judge saying Black had changed their lives through lectures he gave on writing, history, economics and other subjects. But one prison employee claimed in an affidavit that Black had arranged for inmates — "acting like servants" — to iron his clothes, mop his floor and perform other chores. Another employee told her Black once insisted she address him as "Lord Black."

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