To some, he’s prisoner No. 18330-424.
To others, he’s Baron Black of Crossharbour. To most of us, he’s just Conrad Black. And he is about to get sprung from a Florida jail.
Once owner of the third largest newspaper chain in the world and a personal fortune of £175 million, Conrad Black has fallen as far as a guy can fall.
On the one hand, he has finally convinced the U.S. Supreme Court that his fraud convictions are based on an overly broad interpretation of the law, and he has been granted bail as he appeals.
On the other hand, the man who once had everything now has nothing. His London, New York and Palm Beach properties? Gone. His fortune? Gone. And his troubles are hardly over — the U.S. government is suing him for $71 million in back taxes.
You think you’ve got problems? Black doesn’t even have a place to spend the night. He still owns the heavily mortgaged family homestead on Toronto’s Bridle Path, but will probably have to stay in the U.S. as a condition of bail.
Maybe he can stay at the Super 8 motel near his Florida prison, although he might not be able to afford the $100 per night rack rate after working for 23 cents per hour in jail.
Still, my former boss (he owned the Vancouver Sun; I toiled in his vineyard) is not one to mooch for sympathy. He sees himself as a “freedom fighter” and will continue to plug away at self-vindication. The rest of the world may see him as a defrocked capitalist, but the man who denied his Canadian birthright to sit in the House of Lords is hardly cowed by a mere reversal of fortune.
From his cell, he reminds us why the world is a less colourful place with him on ice. He continues to emit wryly amused, wordy newspaper pieces as blithely as if he were cosseted in his London study, butler at hand.
He has even found God. And not just any God, but the Catholic God, the whole nine yards. I came across a massive piece (aren’t they all?) documenting his conversion from “casual Protestantism” to when “I no longer had any confidence in the non-existence of God,” to today in jail when he takes the sacraments at least once a week, and goes to confession when he feels sinful. “This,” he hastens to add, “is not an overly frequent sensation.”
Now that the world has abandoned him, Baron Black has merely ramped it up a notch and has found new friends in higher places. You can’t keep a good social climber down.
Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting;