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'Humbler' Conrad Black tells Vanity Fair about Mafia, moguls and time in jail

TORONTO - Conrad Black hosed down shower stalls and earned the respect of "Mafia people" during his time in prison and is currently worth about $80 million, the disgraced media baron reveals in a forthcoming interview in Vanity Fair magazine.

And while he says he's "humbler" now than he was before his world began to unravel, he's not embarrassed by his experience in jail and wants his Canadian media critics to know they were wrong to predict he'd be unable to handle being behind bars.

"I quickly developed alliances with the Mafia people, then the Cubans," Black said in a wide-ranging interview that will appear in the magazine's October edition. A segment of the interview is featured on Vanity Fair's website.

"I was friendly with the 'good ol' boys' and the African-Americans. They all understood I had fought the system, and I do believe I earned their respect for that."

Black and his wife Barbara Amiel spoke to the magazine for a tell-all article that's meant to coincide with his court-ordered return to prison on Sept. 6. He was freed last year pending an appeal, but was ordered back behind bars.

Prison has been little more than "a temporary vocation," Black said.

"The myth, in all the Canadian papers, was that I would not hold up in prison, that I would be physically and sexually abused ….I realized, well, it would be a little tedious, but it wouldn't be difficult to endure."

The Canadian-born Black also blamed media baron Rupert Murdoch for starting the rumour that led to his downfall.

"The myth is that the price war put so much pressure on our profits that I was forced to steal money to maintain my opulent lifestyle," Black told the magazine's Bryan Burrough.

"It was Rupert, you know. He originated that one. He certainly parroted it. Rupert always says reasonably nice things about me, but then he throws in something like that for effect. I don't really blame Rupert. He's not a non-friend. Rupert is just Darwinian."

Murdoch, owner of News Corp., one of the world's most imposing media empires, is beset by a scandal that has claimed two of his top executives and led him to close one of his British tabloids.

Black was resentenced in June by Judge Amy St. Eve, who also handed down his original term of 78-months in 2007. With credits for time already served and good behaviour, its expected Black will serve less than a year.

His case was reopened after a partially successful Supreme Court appeal. Black's case was sent to a lower court last year, where two of this three fraud convictions were overturned.

Black spent his first stint behind bars at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida, but federal prison officials could send him elsewhere.

"I don't doubt that I am a humbler, more sensitive person now that I have experienced conditions with which I'd had little experience," he said in the interview.

"You have to believe, whether you are cleaning latrines or tutoring inmates, that it served some purpose. I have tried to make the most of an unjust charge."

As he has done since he was forced out as CEO of Hollinger International Inc. in 2002, Black proclaimed his innocence, calling the charges against him absurd.

"The whole thing is absolutely farcical, but here we are," he said. "After eight years … here we are."

In an apparent reference to what's left of his wealth, Black told the magazine "I can live on $80 million." He was previously thought to be worth a lot more.

Black's empire once included the Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph of London and small papers across the U.S. and Canada.

As for future business ventures, Black said he's done with publicly-traded companies.

"The regulators, the minority shareholders, all that crap. Oh, I can't stand it."

-Sunny Freeman reports for the Canadian Press

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