The fraud trial of Conrad Black has been a very large story in Toronto. Black, a business tycoon, was recently sentenced to 78 months in Chicago; last week his appeal was rejected – news story here; blog account here; judgement here. Interestingly, the judge has his own blog.
Black and his co-defendants were executives of Hollinger Inc., a newspaper conglomerate (that, as a company has a long and interesting history, originating with the Hollinger gold mine in Timmins, historically the largest gold producer in North America.) As executives of Hollinger, they caused a subsidiary (APC) to pay non-compete fees of $5.5 million to themselves personally. APC had disposed of various newspapers leaving itself with cash and only one newspaper – in Mammoth Lakes, California, a town of 7903 people in the Sierra Nevadas, a town possibly familiar to Anthony Watts and some other CA readers in northern California, who will doubtless be surprised to learn of its prominence in such an important fraud trial.
From the judgment:
When it had only one left—a weekly community newspaper in Mammoth Lake, California (population 7,093 in 2000, the year before the fraud)—defendant Kipnis, Hollinger’s general counsel, prepared and signed on behalf of APC an agreement to pay the other defendants, plus David Radler, another Hollinger executive and a major shareholder in Ravelston, a total of $5.5 million in exchange for their promising not to compete with APC for three years after they stopped working for Hollinger. ….That Black and the others would start a newspaper in Mammoth Lake to compete with APC’s tiny newspaper there was ridiculous…. Although Hollinger is a large, sophisticated, public corporation, no document was found to indicate that the $5.5 million in payments was ever approved by the corporation or credited to the management-fees account on its books.
Black attempted to argue that the executives were entitled to the money as management fees, but the court made short shrift of these arguments, observing:
They are making a no harm-no foul argument, and such arguments usually fare badly in criminal cases. Suppose your employer owes you $100 but balks at paying, so you help yourself to the money from the cash register. That is theft, e.g., State v. Winston, 295 S.E.2d 46, 51 (W. Va. 1982); Edwards v. State, 181 N.W.2d 383, 387-88 (Wis. 1970); State v. Self, 713 P.2d 142, 144 (Wash. App. 1986), even though if the employer really owes you the money you have not harmed him. You are punishable because you are not entitled to take the law into your own hands. Harmlessness is rarely a defense to a criminal charge; if you embezzle money from your employer and replace it (with interest!) before the embezzlement is detected, you still are guilty of embezzlement.
The name of the newspaper caught my eye. Look at the following location map from Eli Rabett: Conrad Black’s Mammoth Lake CA (population 7093) is none other than the Mammoth Lakes CA (Wikipedia population 7093) of the location map, described at Wikipedia as follows: “Mammoth Lakes is located at 37°38′13″N, 118°58′44″W (37.636893, -118.978915), at an elevation of approximately 7900 feet (2400 m). As of the census of 2000, there were 7,093 people, 2,814 households, and 1,516 families residing in the town.”
Maybe they should have characterized the fees as being for not collecting bristlecone pine data. The mind boggles at the possibilities.
The case attracted a lot of attention here because of Black’s using company property as though it were “personal” property. Data, and even correspondence, are also “property”, an issue that I’ll return to on another occasion.
UPDATE: Mammoth Lakes CA is extremely close to the sites studied by Constance Millar in Millar et al 2006 (Whitewing Mt, San Joaquin Ridge) in a study discussed on several occasions e.g. here, here. Millar says:
Preserved vegetation in the Mammoth Lakes – Long Valley Caldera region provides a detailed record of late Holocene climatic, vegetation, and volcanic dynamics. Scattered across the otherwise barren summits of Whitewing Mtn and San Joaquin Ridge, adjacent to and along the Sierra Nevada crest (Fig. 1), are abundant well-preserved deadwood tree stems (Fig. 2).
As noted on prior occasions, they date the destruction of the trees on Whitewing Mtn to “late summer AD1350″ and model climate in the MWP as significantly warmer than at present (notwithstanding the Mannian PC1 which records near glacial coldness during this period in California).
Deadwood tree stems scattered above treeline on tephra-covered slopes of Whitewing Mtn (3051 m) and San Joaquin Ridge (3122 m) show evidence of being killed in an eruption from adjacent Glass Creek Vent, Inyo Craters. Using tree-ring methods, we dated deadwood to AD 815–1350 and infer from death dates that the eruption occurred in late summer AD 1350. Based on wood anatomy, we identified deadwood species as Pinus albicaulis, P. monticola, P. lambertiana, P. contorta, P. jeffreyi, and Tsuga mertensiana. Only P. albicaulis grows at these elevations currently; P. lambertiana is not locally native. Using contemporary distributions of the species, we modeled paleoclimate during the time of sympatry to be significantly warmer (+3.2°C annual minimum temperature) and slightly drier (−24 mm annual precipitation) than present, resembling values projected for California in the next 70–100 yr.
Here are location maps synchronizing the location map in Millar et al 2006 with a Google Earth image locating Mammoth Lakes CA on a somewhat similar scale.