CHICAGO -- Former media baron Conrad Black pleaded not guilty to federal fraud charges yesterday in connection with the alleged looting of more than $80 million from the Hollinger International Inc. newspaper empire he once controlled.
The 61-year-old Black was arraigned in US District Court, two weeks after being indicted with three other former Hollinger executives and accused of cheating on taxes and pilfering millions from the company to support a lavish lifestyle.
Black, who until recently controlled a large stable of newspapers from Chicago to London to Jerusalem, lambasted the charges at an appearance in his home city of Toronto last week, calling them ''absolute nonsense" and ''one massive smear job from A to Z."
Black's arraignment had been postponed twice and US prosecutors were ready with arrest warrants and planned to launch extradition proceedings if needed. But the combative Black, who renounced his Canadian citizenship to accept a British lordship as owner of The Daily Telegraph, appeared yesterday in court in Chicago.
Black was freed without posting cash bail, but the government seized $8.5 million in October from Black's sale of his New York apartment. There is also a lien on his Palm Beach, Fla., estate.
Black is represented by well-known Chicago defense attorneys Edward Genson and Marc Martin. Both have served as defense counsels for lobbyist Larry Warner, codefendant in the ongoing federal racketeering trial involving former Illinois Governor George Ryan.
Black's Canadian associate Peter Atkinson, 58, also pleaded not guilty to the indictment. Atkinson was Hollinger's executive vice president and oversaw legal affairs.
John A. ''Jack" Boultbee, 62, the company's former chief financial officer, did not appear for his scheduled arraignment on Wednesday. Former Hollinger attorney Mark Kipnis pleaded not guilty a day earlier.
The indictment charged that he and his associates looted the company through a series of fraudulent payments linked to Hollinger International's sale of several hundred US and Canadian publishing properties.
The star witness in the case is expected to be former Chicago Sun-Times publisher David Radler, who pleaded guilty in September to charges of taking part in a scheme to siphon off $32 million in proceeds from the sale of newspaper properties. Radler, Black's top deputy and longtime business partner, agreed to cooperate with the government.