Decision near in Ogilvy trial: Fates of Seifert, Early in hands of the jurors

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As they testified in their own defense, Shona Seifert and Thomas Early saw both the good and bad sides of taking up their own cause. While the witness stand afforded the former Ogilvy & Mather executives the chance to bluntly proclaim their innocence on charges of defrauding the government, it also exposed them to a number of traps set by prosecutors.

On several occasions, Mr. Early and Ms. Seifert were drawn into clashes with the government's lawyers over semantics or tangential elements of the case. On top of having to deny her involvement in a plot to overbill the national anti-drug ad account involving scores of former Ogilvy employees, the charismatic and elegant Ms. Seifert was grilled on whether she made fun of a now-deceased co-worker's obesity. Mr. Early got wrapped up in a pointless debate with a prosecutor over the term "shortfall," which made him appear defensive and argumentative.

But as the jury contemplates the defendants' fates, these toss-off moments just might matter. In the end, with the sum of the evidence yielding an often-muddled portrait of just what the defendants knew and when they knew it, character might well turn out to be king.

all about image

Fittingly for an advertising-industry trial, lawyers from both sides focused on the defendants' images in their closing arguments. Defense attorney Gregory Craig conjured for jurors a tale about "Shona's world," a place "filled with hard work and creative challenges" where Ms. Seifert is a "leader and role model," and where there was "no time for lies and no place for greed."

The government's lawyers were hard put to smudge that portrait, borne out as it was by some of their own witnesses who expressed awe at her 18-hour days and dedication to the ONDCP account even as they testified against her. But try to challenge it the lawyers did, with an e-mail Ms. Seifert penned that apparently referred to the obese and diabetic former Ogilvy contract coordinator's size. Having overlooked Albert DiOrio's inclusion in an e-mail chain, Ms. Seifert wrote, "Oops! I guess he's the same size as everyone else on e-mail."

On the witness stand, she denied it was a joke at Mr. DiOrio's expense. "I didn't make jokes about Mr. DiOrio's size," she said in her soft English lilt. "That's horrible." She was contrite, however, when in a separate exchange the prosecutors threw at her a 1999 e-mail in which she wrote about the ONDCP: "I'll wring the money out of them. I promise."

By and large, Ms. Seifert was good at winning charm points with the jury. She made eye contact with jurors while offering her version of the facts. She proudly pointed out her husband, sitting in the gallery. She even made jokes, at one point referring to a former colleague's labeling of Kimberly-Clark's Huggies account as "the land of poopy diapers."

Ms. Seifert and Mr. Early used their testimony to play down what prosecutors said was a widespread conspiracy at the WPP Group-owned Ogilvy to make up a projected revenue shortfall on the $150 million ONDCP account. They testified that much of the activity that followed that revelation-especially the revision of time sheets and the hiring of additional staff-was legitimate and based on actual client demand.

That flies in the face of testimony from a number of former Ogilvy staffers, two of whom entered guilty pleas to similar crimes, who said that the additional labor and inflation of hours did not reflect actual work and was done to close the revenue gap.

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