A federal appeals court on Friday reversed two of former media mogul Conrad Black's 2007 fraud convictions — raising at least the possibility he won't return to prison.
After serving two years of a 6 1/2-year sentence, Black was released earlier this year from a federal prison in Florida while his case was appealed.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago unanimously agreed that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling sharply curtailing so called "honest services" laws meant the two fraud convictions had to be tossed. The government had conceded two of Black's convictions rested partly on the idea that he had deprived his former company of his faithful services as a corporate officer.
But the ruling was only a partial victory for Black because the three-judge panel upheld two other convictions for fraud and obstruction of justice. Its 15-page opinion said those convictions weren't linked to honest services laws and could stand.
It's unclear what will happen next to the 66-year-old who once controlled a media empire that included the Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph of London and community papers in the U.S. and Canada.
Prosecutors could retry Black on the two overturned fraud convictions — though Judge Richard Posner, writing Friday's opinion, seemed to discourage that prospect.
"The government may wish instead, in order to conserve its resources and wind up this protracted litigation...," he writes.
U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, who oversaw the trial, will have to resentence Black, considering only the two convictions that were upheld. One option for her is to allow Black to stay out of prison based on time already served.
Prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office were noncommittal Friday about what they would do next, saying they were pleased two convictions were upheld.
In a brief written statement, prosecutors added that, "We will make our further intentions known . . . at the appropriate time after we have studied the opinion carefully."
A message left for Black's attorney, Miguel Estrada, was not immediately returned.
The Supreme Court's June decision offered a lifeline to the Canadian-born Black and other public figures convicted using honest services laws, including Jeffrey Skilling, the former CEO of disgraced energy giant Enron Corp., and imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.
But Friday's opinion said the fraud conviction the court upheld — involving Black and others taking $600,000 from the company — had nothing to do with honest service but was straightforward theft.
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