Conrad Black, the former Hollinger International Inc. chairman convicted of mail fraud and obstructing justice, was sentenced yesterday to serve 61/2 years in prison, about a quarter of the maximum originally sought by prosecutors.

Black, 63, led Hollinger for eight years as chairman and chief executive officer. He quit as CEO in 2003 after an internal probe found he and other executives had received more than $32 million in unauthorized payments. He was fired as chairman two months later and convicted in July of directing a $6.1 million fraud.

"You violated your duty to Hollinger International shareholders," U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, who presided at the trial, told Black yesterday in federal court in Chicago. "I frankly cannot understand how someone of your stature, at the top of the media empire, could engage in the conduct you engaged in."

Black was ordered to return the $6.1 million and pay a $125,000 fine.

"I do wish to express very profound regret and sadness" for Hollinger investors, Black told St. Eve yesterday. The judge sentenced him to the minimum prison term under the law, using the same guidelines that will govern the sentence of F. David Radler, the chief U.S. witness against Black and his former partner.

The judge allowed Black to remain free on bail until March 3, when he is to report to prison in Florida.

Black declined to comment as he left the courtroom. Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the prison term was "a serious amount of time."

Convicted with Black were former Hollinger vice president Peter Atkinson, former chief financial officer John Boultbee, and former general counsel Mark Kipnis. Atkinson was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of probation.

The judge rejected federal efforts to sentence Black under tougher guidelines or to consider the higher fraud amount found by the internal Hollinger investigation.

St. Eve said the range for Black's sentence was between 6.5 and 8.1 years.

The former CEO still faces lawsuits by the Securities and Exchange Commission and Hollinger International.