Conrad Black’s personal assistant testified on Thursday that the former newspaper baron had no idea that she packed boxes with his personal items while the Toronto St. office was filled with inspectors from an accounting firm.
Joan Maida, who has worked for Black since 1994, was the first witness for the defence at the hearings before the Ontario Securities Commission.
She recalled the spring of 2005, when the Toronto offices of Hollinger Inc. and Hollinger International were inhabited by inspectors from accounting firm Ernst & Young, who were examining and making copies of documents and computer hard drives.
At the same time, Black, Maida and Hollinger executives were being evicted from the premises.
Maida testified that she talked to Black about setting up an office in her home. On May 20, she packed several boxes with Black’s “personal memorabilia” and said that she was going to take them home.
“I did this completely of my own accord. He did not know I was packing boxes,” Maida told the OSC panel.
Black was head of the Hollinger newspaper companies when the firms imploded nearly a decade ago.
Black, former chief financial officer John Boultbee, and other executives were accused of operating a scheme that used so-called non-competition payments to enrich themselves at the expense of Hollinger shareholders.
Black and Boultbee each served time in a U.S. jail on one count of fraud. Black was also convicted of one count of obstruction of justice related to 13 boxes of documents that he removed from his Toronto St. office.
Now, the Ontario Securities Commission is considering whether it should ban Black and Boultbee from acting as officers or directors of companies in Ontario that raise money in capital markets or issue shares to the public.
Under cross-examination, Maida couldn’t say how many boxes she packed. “You’re asking me about something I did nine years ago. I really don’t recall how many boxes I packed that day,” she told OSC counsel Jed Friedman.
Maida told the OSC panel on Thursday that she knew the office was full of inspectors from Ernst & Young.
At Black’s 2007 criminal trial in the U.S., Maida testified that she didn’t know about the inspectors. She testified that while she saw people looking through company files, she didn’t know why they were there, and didn’t ask.
In previous testimony, she also said that the personal items in the boxes may have included business emails, contracts, and copies of cheques.
“It was all personal to me,” Maida told the OSC panel.
There is no need for stock market regulators to ban Black from Ontario’s capital markets because the odds of the former newspaper baron doing something wrong are “infinitesimal,” his defence lawyer told the quasi-judiciary panel.
After what Black has gone through in the last decade, “the likelihood of repetition is infinitesimally small — it would have to be measured in picograms — a trillionth of a gram,” Peter Howard said during his opening statement.
The panel should only make an order in the public interest “to ensure that similar conduct does not occur in Ontario in the future,” Howard said, calling his client “a man of principle.”
Prosecutors initially threatened Black with 17 charges and a life sentence behind bars, Howard said.
“He did not knuckle under and make a false confession to save money or his skin. He had no option but to meet the 17 charges and was substantially successful. That’s the issue when you get to remorse,” Howard said. “It has been demonstrated that almost everything that was leveled against him was unfounded. Why should he show remorse for that?”
Maida told the OSC panel that while she packed four or five boxes, she didn’t know what was in the others.
Maida’s testimony was interrupted several times as lawyers argued over what evidence from the U.S. proceedings could be included in the OSC hearing.
“We understand there is a lot at stake for Mr. Black. There’s a lot at stake for staff in these proceedings,” OSC commissioner Christopher Portner said at one point. “Let’s try and do what we can to avoid this becoming a battle over every single question that is posed.”
Black is expected to testify on Friday on the non-competition payment that was the basis for his fraud conviction in the U.S., as well as the boxes removed from his office.