Whistle blower: Taking down two media giants

Winkler’s battle with the then international media giant Hollinger International…began here in Kelowna.

Paul Winkler was never one to easily tear up, but his emotions got the better of him when he was forced to leave Kelowna more than a decade ago.

Blackballed in the newspaper industry, with no opportunity to carry on his career as a newspaper publisher, Winkler and his wife and four kids left town.

And they were continually asking themselves the singular question, why did this have to happen?

Today, Winkler is retired in Ontario with his wife Mary Lynn and their four kids have all grown up, but the scars of blowing the whistle on the corporate fraud shenanigans of David Radler and Conrad Black will likely never go away.

But writing their new book, A Costly Stand, has proven cathartic for Mary Lynn, who wrote the book, after having to leave Kelowna while asking the same question without getting a satisfactory answer: Why did this have to happen?

But has her husband is quick to point out, it all comes down to corporate greed and his determination to not abandon what he felt was the right thing to do against considerable opposition.

Winkler’s battle with the then international media giant Hollinger International, the media enterprise once headed by CEO Conrad Black and president David Radler began here in Kelowna.

When he and Mary Lynn arrived in Kelowna back pin the late 1990s, Winkler had already spent 20 years in the newspaper business. He arrived here to become the area group publisher for the Capital News and a number of smaller outlying area newspapers, then owned by Lower Mainland Publishing Ltd.

He worked to begin evolving the Capital News into a more profitable venture, taking it from a break-even point to making millions in profit, and making significant advertising market share inroads against The Daily Courier.

He was very bullish on the future promise for the Cap News, feeling the Courier was on the decline, and he had the positive feedback from advertisers and Angus Reid marketing surveys to back it up.

But then things changed. The Courier was bought by a company called Horizon and  soon Winkler was being told by his bosses to lay off the competition. He was dumbfounded by that direction at first, then soon became aware that his Hollinger bosses, Radler and Black also privately owned Horizon.

Winkler was outraged by being asked to consciously downgrade the Capital News and refused to go along with any such tactic.

At the time there had been ongoing discussion about Winkler heading up the LMPL operations in B.C., a big promotion, but that job offer disappeared, as he was fired by Radler in November 1999 for refusing to participate in what he viewed as a violation of the competition laws in Canada.

Winkler wanted to exposes his bosses. He called the media but no one was interested, such was the tangled web of control that Radler and Black held over the media industry at that time. Nobody would touch the story.

So Winkler sued, filing a lawsuit in Kelowna against Hollinger for breach of contract demanding one year of severance pay. He wanted it exposed what had happened to him and that was the only way he could do it.

The trial eventually reached the courts in 2002, Winkler emerged victorious, winning his case, the first legal bullet that ultimately would lead to the shredding of the reputations of both Radler and Black after fraud charges against them were filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in Chicago.

In 2005, Radler was charged with mail and wire fraud and sentenced to 29 months in prison. In 2007, Black was sentenced to six and half years in prison for mail fraud and obstruction of justice. Radler would be the star witness for the prosecution in the case against Black.

Even in that moment, Winkler’s intent to be a witness for the prosecution, to tell his story on the stand in a high profile court case was taken away when Radler agreed to testify against Black.

“I had been prepped to be a witness but that all came to a halt when Radler made his deal to testify. They didn’t need me anymore because they had him,” Winkler said.

Today, Winkler is back in Kelowna with Mary Lynn to visit old friends and do some stumping for the new book.

He will speak to several local Rotary Clubs during his stay here, hold a book signing at Mosaic Books on Tuesday, April 14, 3 to 5 p.m., and a book signing and reception on Wednesday, April 15, starting at 5 p.m. at the Ramada Lodge Hotel.

The couple are looking on a brighter upside to their lives these days and they hope the book can be helpful to boost the spirits of others facing tough times or difficult moral decisions in their workplace.

“Sometimes adversity makes you stronger and we are an example of that,” said Mary Lynn.

 

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