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THOMAS EARLY SPARS WITH PROSECUTORS DURING TESTIMONY

Shona Seifert E-mail Promises to 'Wring the Money Out of' ONDCP

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Thomas Early, former senior partner and director of finance at Ogilvy & Mather's New York office today testified he did not instruct agency staffers to falsify timesheets on the Office of National Drug Control Policy account in 1999.
Photo: Louis Lanzano
Thomas Early, former senior partner and director of finance at Ogilvy & Mather's New York office outside U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan.

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Full Background:
BACKGROUND: THE WHITE HOUSE DRUG OFFICE ADVERTISING CASE
The Stories From 2001 to the Present

Read the 14-page indictment .pdf

Mr. Early took the stand as co-defendant and former Ogilvy executive Shona Seifert finished her testimony in U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan.

'Wring the money'
During Ms. Seifert's second day of testimony, jurors repeatedly saw an e-mail about payments owed the agency by the ONDCP in which she wrote, "I'll wring the money out of them. I promise."

Ms. Seifert testified to being "embarrassed" about the written remark. Over the past two days, the line was twice more flashed up on a screen where jurors see all documents admitted into evidence, once during direct testimony and again during cross-examination.

Ms. Seifert and Mr. Early are accused of defrauding the federal government by ordering personnel at the WPP Group agency to inflate the number of billable hours on the ONDCP advertising account. They face up to five years in prison and a fine if convicted.

Mr. Early, who left Ogilvy after the charges against him were made public last year, spent more than two hours on the witness stand. He denied any sinister motives from the flurry of agency activity that began in the summer of 1999, when it was discovered that the ONDCP account was coming up short in revenue projections.

Falsified timesheets
Federal prosecutors allege that during that period timesheets were falsified and employees were added to the account in a plot to make up for the shortfall by increasing billable hours on the account.

Contrary to the earlier testimony of a number of former Ogilvy employees, Mr. Early followed Ms. Seifert in ascribing more benign intentions to the hiring effort. In particular, he said he directed lower-level employees to bring in staff on the ONDCP because of a real need for more hands. He called allegations that new staffers were hurriedly hired in 1999 for other accounts but told to bill their hours to the ONDCP account "unrealistic."

Bearded and sober-looking, Mr. Early often responded in simple, short sentences to the questions posed and spent more time looking at the attorney than making eye contact with the jury.

Testimony continues Thursday
His testimony is scheduled to continue tomorrow. Closing arguments are expected later in the day.

In one e-mail written in June 1999, Mr. Early rejected a proposal from the outgoing Bates Worldwide agency to discuss the challenges they encountered with the complicated government contract.

The issue is significant because part of the defense's strategy is based on claims that Ogilvy lacked experience in handling such strictly regulated government contracts.

Mr. Early said he declined Bates' offer because "I didn't agree with the approach."

The defense has tried to play down the importance of that shortfall to the agency's financial situation in 1999, an argument that goes against the testimony of Bill Gray, Ogilvy's New York president, who told a jury he was incensed when he found out about the revenue issues. Still, the defendants and prosecutors have spent a good deal of time sparring over whether a mention of $15.7 million in a number of internal documents was a revenue target or a projection.

Clash with prosecutor
Mr. Early challenged Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Berger's use of the word "shortfall" to characterize the revenue issues. "You continue to call it a 'shortfall,'" he said. "It was a revision of a projection going to a client."

Ms. Berger replied: "If you were running $3 million under what you projected, isn't that a shortfall?"

"Yes, it is," Mr. Early admitted.

Mr. Early's attorneys tried to minimize his role in the agency by displaying an e-mail that essentially depicted him as Mr. Gray's lackey, responsible for invoices for a staffer's chair as well as another employee's first-class travel. That, however, didn't really gibe with Mr. Early's description of his own job: "My responsibility was to collect, report and monitor revenue projections and staffing of the office."

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