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THOMAS EARLY SENTENCED TO 14 MONTHS IN PRISON

Must Also Pay $10,000 Fine in White House Drug Office Fraud Case

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A federal judge today sentenced Thomas Early, a former finance director at Ogilvy & Mather’s New York office, to 14 months in prison and a $10,000 fine for his part in a plot to defraud the government on the national anti-drug account.
Photo: Louis Lanzano
Thomas Early, former senior partner and director of finance at Ogilvy & Mather's New York office, was sentenced to prison today in U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan.

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The sentence was pronounced by Judge Richard Berman shortly after noon in the U.S. District courthouse in lower Manhattan.

Following his prison term, Mr. Early will be under two years of supervised release. Judge Berman agreed to requests from Mr. Early’s lawyer that he surrender on or before Sept. 21 and that he recommend that his prison time be served in minimum security prisons in Otisville, N.Y., or Schuylkill, Pa.

Less than what prosecutors sought
Mr. Early and his lawyer, Laurence Urgenson, declined comment following the hearing, but there must have been something of a sense of relief. The federal prosecutors trying the case sought a term of 51 months against the 49-year-old father of five. Judge Berman, however, chose a much shorter sentence, citing in addition to other factors, Mr. Early’s image as a “family man and a community-conscious individual."

That as a “family man” was apparent today. The courtroom was crowded with many of his friends and family, including his wife, Maureen. His sister-in-law, Kathleen Cassazza, made an impassioned plea, choking back tears while she described his role in her two children. “My own children are now very vulnerable,” she said.

Mr. Early, too, addressed Judge Berman, expressing some regret: “It was clearly my responsibility to know what was happening.”

While acknowledging these things, as well as the more than 100 letters written on Mr. Early's behalf, Judge Berman stressed the importance of corporate ethics. He also said Mr. Early obstructed justice during the trial, when he denied taking part in a meeting in which he ordered Ogilvy staffers to bill a particular number of hours -- regardless if they were actually worked -- in order to make up for a revenue shortfall. Judge Berman said he found the testimony of witnesses to that meeting credible.

Shona Seifert sentencing
Mr. Early and former co-worker Shona Seifert, once an executive group director at Ogilvy, were convicted in February of one count of conspiracy and nine counts of false claims stemming from their role in a 1999 scheme to inflate the hours the agency worked for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Ms. Seifert, who in March resigned from the New York office of TBWA/Chiat/Day, is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow. They each face a maximum of five years in prison and millions of dollars in fines.

Prosecutors are seeking a sentence of more than four years for Ms. Seifert, according to court filings.

Today’s hearing was the beginning of the what is likely to be the final chapter in a scandal that has embarrassed the elite ad agency, best-known for work for major marketers such as IBM and American Express. Ogilvy paid $1.8 million to settle civil charges stemming from the billing dispute in 2002. The February trial saw a parade of former Ogilvy staffers testify about billing practices that were sloppy at best and, as it turned out, criminal at worst for a massive, high-profile advertising account with billings in the hundreds of million of dollars.

Witnesses for the prosecution
Following Ms. Seifert’s sentencing tomorrow, three other ex-Ogilvy employees who were identified as co-conspirators and have pleaded guilty will receive their punishments. Two of the executives, Bob Zach and Peter Chrisanthopoulos, testified against Mr. Early and Ms. Seifert in the hopes their cooperation would lead to a lighter sentence. The other executive, Ray Simko, pleaded guilty to similar charges in March and resigned from his post at MindShare, the media buying and planning agency that was created from Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson several years ago

Earlier this week a court clerk said that their hearings had yet to be scheduled but would follow those of Ms. Seifert and Mr. Early.

In comparison to Ms. Seifert, who ran the ONDCP account and was thus the subject of much of the testimony at trial, the 49-year-old Mr. Early cut a lower profile at trial. His lawyers’ strategy largely entailed distancing the government’s witnesses from Mr. Early in short cross-examinations.

Pointed to Early's role
But some of the government’s witnesses said he played a part in directing the conspiracy. Mr. Chrisanthopoulos, for one, testified that Mr. Early, at a meeting in the fall of 1999, said the staffers should log hours on ONDCP against particular percentages of time in order to make up for a shortfall the agency projected.

Mr. Early resigned from Ogilvy in January 2004, shortly after the indictment was filed.

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