Conrad Black trial begins in Chicago

[Associated Press]

A jury was selected Thursday in the racketeering trial of Conrad M. Black, the former media executive, and jurors were instructed to return Monday for opening statements.

Of the 20 people chosen after two days of questioning, 18 will be seated — 12 jurors and 6 alternates. No identifying information about the selected jurors was provided in court Thursday.

Mr. Black, 62, said little as he entered an elevator after leaving court.

“When we have a verdict, I’ll have a comment,” Mr. Black said.

As on the first day of jury selection Wednesday, several possible jurors expressed skepticism about how businessmen make big money and structure their deals to get favorable tax treatment.

One employee of a large Chicago-based corporation said that if businessmen raked in “tens of millions of dollars” he would automatically doubt any claim that nothing illegal had occurred.

“It just sounds weird,” he said.

Mr. Black is accused of selling hundreds of community newspapers owned by Hollinger International and pocketing payments from the buyers.

Prosecutors say the money, paid in exchange for promises not to compete with the new owners, should have gone to the shareholders.

Mr. Black is also accused of dipping into the corporate till to pay for a two-week vacation on the Pacific island of Bora Bora and much of a $62,000 birthday party for his wife at La Grenouille in New York. Mr. Black has denied any wrongdoing.

Three former Hollinger executives are also on trial, charged with helping Mr. Black engineer a fraud scheme.

Jeffrey H. Cramer, an assistant United States attorney, is to deliver his opening statement on Monday morning. The trial is expected to last three months.

With jurors skeptical about corporate ethics, Judge Amy J. St. Eve of Federal District Court repeatedly emphasized that it was possible to accumulate large wealth or to minimize payments to the Internal Revenue Service without committing a crime.

article originally published at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/16/business/16black.html?_r=1&dlbk&oref=slogin.

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