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David Radler is a free man. The disgraced former publisher of the Sun-Times was sentenced to 29 months in prison after pleading guilty to fraud and testifying last year against newspaper magnate Conrad Black and other Hollinger International executives in a trial held in Chicago that was the biggest story in Canada. Radler entered a federal prison in Pennsylvania in February, was transferred seven months later to a Canadian prison in British Columbia, and put in another ten weeks behind bars there before being paroled.
Meanwhile, Black is serving a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence in Florida and former execs Peter Atkinson and Jack Boultbee are each doing two years in other American prisons. Black and Radler ran the Hollinger empire, most of which was in Canada, and they were accused of skimming off millions of dollars in phony noncompete fees when they sold off their papers piecemeal.
Radler caught two big breaks. As a Canadian copping a plea, he made himself eligible for a swift transfer to the Canadian prison system, where parole is a lot easier to come by. (Black, alas, gave up his Canadian citizenship to enter Britain's House of Lords.) And as Hollinger's man in Chicago, where the board of directors met -- the board so easily deceived -- Radler was in a terrible position to insist he'd done nothing wrong and in an excellent position to give Black up. So he did, and was amply rewarded.
You can read Radler's parole report for yourself. It let him know he got lucky yet again. "You betrayed the public's trust and invested much of your initial effort in attempts to distance yourself from your illegal activity," it told Radler. "You have left a trail of many victims."
However -- "The legislation governing accelerated parole reviews obliges the [National Parole Board] to narrowly focus on your potential for violent recidivism. Many who have commented on your offence would argue that the financial devastation you caused to the countless victims would constitute a form of violence. However, the Board must apply the law in the spirit in which it was written." And as the board had no reason to believe Radler would hit the streets and start bopping people over the head, he was home free.
One of the highlights of the long 2007 trial in the Dirksen Building was the sparring match between Radler and Black lawyer Edward Greenspan, as Greenspan tried to discredit Radler's testimony by letting the jury know what a cushy deal he was getting.
“Surely you’ve heard that the moment you go to a Canadian prison the Canadian rules of parole apply,” said Greenspan.
“I did not know what you just told me,” said Radler.
“I think I’m going to send you a bill,” said Greenspan.
And Greenspan said, “You know in Canada anyone who gets three years or less for a nonviolent crime is out in six months.”
Radler replied, “I look the jury straight in the face. I did not know that. I heard rumors . . .”
Greenspan asked if Radler was familiar with Ferndale, the prison in British Columbia where he was likely to wind up. Radler said he wasn't.
“Have you heard there you can raise cattle? And there’s a golf therapy program.”
“As a nongolfer,” said Radler, “that’s not going to help me.”
In the end, Radler spent only his last week in Ferndale, as he awaited the parole board's decision. That might have been the toughest break he got.
Or maybe not. Toronto attorney Steven Skurka, who attended the Black trial and wrote a book about it, says in his blog that Radler should have been released after six months but was held a few weeks longer so Greenspan's prediction wouldn't come so blatantly true. Skurka says Radler "played the system like a virtuoso violinist, and his release on full parole to return to his south Vancouver mansion is a far greater achievement than building the third largest media empire in the world."
What's left of that empire is the Sun-Times Media Group, whose stock is now worth a few pennies a share.