Earlier allegations about O&M's handling of the White House National Youth Anti-Drug Campaign stirred up a furor in Congress. Even the suggestion of impropriety directed at a premier agency like Ogilvy should have embarrassed everyone in the agency business-and troubled advertisers about the state of ethics on Madison Avenue.
After a two-year federal probe, the filing of charges finally shapes the issue bluntly: Was what happened at Ogilvy just sloppy time-sheet discipline? Or was it a crime by two executives? Never indicted itself, Ogilvy in 2002 settled civil fraud charges, paid $1.8 million to the government and agreed to establish a rigorous ethics program for its employees. Perhaps just as painful, its name was dragged through the news for months as angry members of Congress demanded O&M be banned from handling future government ad work.
Now, federal prosecutors are assigning criminal responsibility to Shona Seifert, who directed the $684-million multiyear government ad account at O&M (and is now president of Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/Day in New York), and Thomas Early,chief financial officer at O&M's New York office. Mr. Early resigned his post last week to seek vindication in court. Ms. Seifert, in a statement, firmly denied any wrongdoing. The outcome will show whether prosecutors have overreached here. But advertisers, other agencies and public officials responsible for the anti-drug campaign, to say nothing of taxpayers, will finally get an accounting of what actually transpired.