NEW YORK Former Ogilvy & Mather executive Shona Seifert today was sentenced in U.S. District Court here to 18 months imprisonment (and two years probation) for her role in a scheme to overbill the government's $1 billion Office of National Drug Control Policy account to cover a $3 million revenue shortfall on the business.
Seifert must also pay a $125,000 fine and a $1,000 special assessment, as well as write a "code of ethics" for the ad industry as part of 400 hours of community service.
The case, said Judge Richard M. Berman, was essentially about the "slippage in ethics, and perhaps the absence of a code of ethics." Berman did not specify exactly what should be covered in that code, or how long it should be. It should be written by the time her probation ends.
Berman said he read more than 70 letters of support that characterized Seifert as a "hugely successful, high-level executive," but noted that "success in business is illusory unless it is grounded in ethical business practices and those need to be ... instilled in all of the workforce from the top to the bottom."
In a tear-choked statement read before the court, Seifert called the five years during which she was investigated and tried "an absolute nightmare," and said she was "truly sorry" for the pain she had caused her family and husband.
"But more, I regret that an advertising campaign that was designed to do so much good, became a source of so much pain for so many people," Seifert said.
Seifert read her statement in a courtroom nearly empty of supporters, save her husband, because her defense team had asked them not to attend. "This is a matter for the court, Ms. Seifert and the government," said attorney Greg Craig.
Seifert will surrender on or before Sept. 6 and likely serve her sentence at a minimum security facility in Danbury, Conn.
Seifert declined comment upon leaving the courthouse, but in a statement sent by her attorneys said, "Today's sentencing hearing was the culmination of a prolonged and deeply painful experience. This is not the time to discuss the events of the past five years. I would like to thank my family and friends, and the Williams & Connolly team for their unfailing support. 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."
Her co-defendant Thomas Early, Ogilvy's former financial director, was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment and two years probation yesterday [Adweek Online, July 13]. Early must also pay $11,000 in fines and fees. He will surrender on Sept. 21 and serve his sentence at a facility in Pennsylvania.
Early and Seifert, a former executive group director at the agency, in February were found guilty of all 10 counts against them: one for conspiring to defraud the government and the rest for filing false claims.
Each faced up to five years in prison.
During testimony at the trial, the defendants insisted they did not ask Ogilvy employees to doctor timesheets to fraudulently increase the number of hours billed to the ONDCP. Early did concede that some timesheets appeared to contain inaccuracies.
Seifert for two years had been president of Omnicom Group's TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York. She took a three-month leave from the agency starting on Jan. 1 to prepare for the trial. Seifert and TBWA\C\D severed ties on Feb. 28.