NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A federal judge today sentenced Shona Seifert to 18 months in prison and ordered her to pay a $125,000 fine for her role in the Ogilvy & Mather scheme to overbill the government on its national anti-drug ad account. The judge also ordered her to develop a written code of conduct for the advertising industry.
|Photo: Louis Lanzano|
Shona Seifert was today sentenced to 18 months in prison and a $125,000 fine for her part in a plot to defraud the White House Drug Office on its advertising account billings.
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The ruling was made by Judge Richard Berman on the seventh floor courtroom of the U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan. Yesterday, Judge Berman slapped Ms. Seifert's co-defendant in her February trial, Thomas Early, with 14 months in jail and a $10,000 fine. Mr. Early was the finance director in the New York office of Ogilvy, part of WPP Group.
Sought stiffer penalties
Prosecutors sought a stiffer penalty for Ms. Seifert, who as executive group director at Ogilvy New York was the lead person on the Office of National Drug Policy account in its early days at the agency and the main focus of the trial. They sought a term of 51 to 63 months, according to court filings.
Ms. Seifert, who has two years of supervised release following her prison term, will have to voluntarily surrender to authorities on or before Sept. 6. Judge Berman said he would recommend she serve her time at the minimum security prison in Danbury, Conn., not far from her residence in Southport. The code of conduct is due to Judge Berman by Oct. 15, but it?s unclear what will he will do with it.
Ms. Seifert, a British citizen, was also ordered to cooperate with immigration and naturalization authorities who could decide to deport her. In court papers filed prior to the hearing, her lawyers stated that ?Shona faces the prospect of deportation proceedings and the real possibility of being forced to leave the United States."
Judge Berman said that the sentences for Mr. Early and Ms. Seifert differed in severity for a few reasons, including ?the large number of employees who viewed [Ms. Seifert] as a mentor? as well as her deep involvement in the overbilling plot.
At the heart of the conspiracy
Ms. Seifert, he said, ?was at the heart and pinnacle of the conspiracy.?
As with Mr. Early, Judge Berman took into account her previously clear record, the fact that a senior ONDCP official hailed both her work and Ogilvy & Mather?s, and her involvement in the community, which includes post-conviction volunteer work with victims of domestic violence. He also said that she obstructed justice by lying while testifying in her own defense. Her denials that she ordered Ogilvy staffers to revise timesheets to reflect hours not worked on the account were contradicted by credible witnesses, Judge Berman said.
In a brief statement that was barely audible over her sobs, Ms. Seifert said, ?I regret that a campaign that was [designed] to do so much good was a source of pain and suffering for so many.?
She declined comment following the hearing. A spokesman issued a statement that read, in part: ?The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one?s attitude in the face of adversity. I hope I will have the strength to handle what lies ahead with courage and grace.?
Appeal is pending
The spokesman said an appeal is pending.
Following her conviction in February, Ms. Seifert, 44, stepped down as president of Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, a position she'd held since leaving Ogilvy.
At her trial, prosecutors accused her of leading a plot to falsify timesheets in order to make up for a projected revenue shortfall on the account in 1999. Testifying against her was a number of ex-Ogilvy staffers who said Ms. Seifert told them to doctor timesheets that had been submitted or to overstate hours they had worked on the account.
A jury convicted her and Mr. Early of one count of conspiracy to defraud and nine counts of submitting false claims.