The Defense Makes Its Case

NEW YORK A former Office of National Drug Control Policy official today described Ogilvy & Mather as a dedicated and generous shop led by tireless management when he took the stand in U.S. District Court as a defense witness in the trial of former agency executives Shona Seifert and Thomas Early.

The pair stand accused of masterminding a scheme to doctor timesheets and inflate billings on the ONDCP’s $1 billion ad account to make up for a $3 million revenue shortfall. Both have pled not guilty.

Lawyers for Seifert and Early began the duo’s defense today, attempting to resuscitate the reputations of the defendants (and, by extension, WPP Group’s Ogilvy) after eight days of attacks by the prosecution, which rested its case this morning.

Alan Levitt, the former director of the national youth anti-drug campaign for the ONDCP, today described Seifert and her team as inspired and tireless, often working late into the evening on various aspects of the account.

Levitt cited several examples of Seifert’s dedication, including visits Seifert made to Washington, D.C., to meet with former drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey. Seifert stayed as late as 10 p.m. to brief the general, and on at least one occasion missed the last shuttle flight to New York and scrambled to find a hotel room and tooth brushes, Levitt said.

As another example of Ogilvy’s altruism, Levitt noted that at one point the agency created ads targeting Native Americans for free when it could have charged a fee.

He also lauded the shop for negotiating an additional $20 million in free TV airtime for ONDCP ads above what the client been expected.

“Ogilvy was superb. If I could hire them again, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” Levitt said.

Levitt described former ONDCP accountant Richard Pleffner as an unreasonable bean counter loathed by the agencies doing anti-drug work. In one instance, Levitt said Pleffner instructed a focus group contractor to have participants include their social security numbers before being paid $35 each. That practice could have skewed the results by discouraging participation, and on that matter, Pleffner was overruled, Levitt said.

Pleffner in 2000 reported Ogilvy’s alleged billing inconsistencies, sparking an investigation by the General Accountability Office.

On cross-examination, Levitt was forced to admit that he had no knowledge of the billing practices employed by Ogilvy, and no knowledge of the evidence laid out in the trial’s proceedings.

Testimony by Lily Pu, Ogilvy senior partner of strategic planning, seemed to support Levitt’s view of Pleffner.

When Pu was shown an e-mail in which Seifert seemed to joke, “I don’t want Rick [Pleffner] to send me to jail,” Pu said, “That was a spending joke, referring to Rick’s kind of habit of saying ‘If you don’t do this, you’ll go to jail.'”

Pu also said, “Nobody worked harder than Shona, no matter how late I worked or how early I came in, Shona was always there.”

Both Pu and another defense witness, Ogilvy senior partner Margaret Bassette, said Seifert never told them to alter their timesheets.

The trial is expected to resume on Tuesday.