After meeting former Fox School of Business dean Moshe Porat at a breakfast in Margate, New Jersey, Harriet Weiss became close friends with him and his family. Weiss said Porat was a man of honesty and integrity.
“He just pushed us to be better,” said Weiss, CEO of CRW Graphics, a printing company. “I would trust him with my life, my children, my anything.”
Weiss was one of 10 character witnesses called to testify on Porat’s behalf on Nov. 22 as he faces conspiracy and fraud charges for his role in allegedly leading Fox’s scheme to provide erroneous data to U.S. News and World Report, which resulted in the school receiving top rankings from 2014 to 2018, misleading its applicants, students and donors.
Fox misreported data on the number of applicants who submitted test scores, acceptance rates, undergraduate grade point averages and student debt in its rankings submissions, according to a 2018 independent investigation from Jones Day, an international law firm. The investigation also concluded the school’s work environment contributed to the falsified submissions, The Temple News reported.
Temple University removed Porat as dean on July 9, 2018, but he remains a tenured professor making more than $300,000 a year, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Porat’s trial began on Nov. 9 at James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse, located on Market Street near 6th. He is represented by Troutman Pepper partners Michael A. Schwartz and Richard J. Zack, and if convicted, could face up to 25 years in prison for the most serious charge.
Isaac Gottlieb, a former statistical science professor at Fox, and Marjorie O’Neill, the former senior director of graduate enrollment at Fox, were also indicted on conspiracy charges for their involvement in the data submissions, but pleaded guilty on June 3 and May 25, respectively, The Temple News reported.
O’Neill could have been required to testify against Porat as part of her plea deal but the prosecution did not call her to the stand, saying they did not need her testimony to make their case, The Temple News reported.
The prosecution argued the erroneous data resulted from Porat’s long-held fixation with Fox’s national rankings, calling 13 witnesses to the stand who described his efforts to intimidate his employees into falsifying the submissions and then downplay the scheme, The Temple News reported.
The defense argued Porat was scapegoated for the scandal, saying the falsified submissions were a result of Temple’s obsession with rankings and other employees’ mistakes, The Temple News reported. Their witnesses largely spoke to Porat’s high character.
Besides Weiss, the defense’s witnesses included:
- Raza Bokhari, graduated with an MBA from Fox in 2001.
- Jane Goldblum, a former immigration attorney who founded Golblum and Pollins, an immigration law firm.
- Daniele Grossman, a former lawyer in France, who was friends with Porat and his family.
- Larry Kaiser, former dean of Lewis Katz School of Medicine from 2011 to 2012 and former chairman of surgery at University of Pennsylvania Medicine.
- Arvind Phatak, a former professor at the Fox School of Business.
- Michael Siegel, a former professor at the Fox School of Business.
- Jagbir Singh, a former professor at Fox’s Department of Statistics who retired in 2016.
- Alexander Vaccaro, a spine surgeon in Philadelphia who attended Temple’s online MBA program and graduated in 2015.
- Harith Wickrema, a former professor at Temple’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management.
HONESTY AND INTEGRITY?
When each witness took the stand, the defense asked them to recall parts of their personal relationships with Porat, including how they met and Fox’s role in their relationship.
Goldblum met Porat on a biking trip before they became family friends, calling him a man of “utmost character.” She recalled times where they enjoyed meals and took trips together.
“He would never do anything to tarnish [Temple’s] reputation,” Goldblum said.
Porat would have been aware of the risk of falsifying submissions to U.S. News and World Report after Tulane University was caught intentionally misreporting test score data in 2012, Goldblum testified.
Vaccaro, the president of Rothman Orthopaedics, an orthopedic health system, testified he sought guidance from Porat on business-related matters. He also spoke to the former Fox dean’s honesty and integrity.
“I really adore the man,” Vaccaro said. “My respect is boundless.”
When cross-examining Goldblum and Vaccaro, the prosecution tried to downplay their portrayals of Porat by demonstrating both had never professionally worked with him, meaning they have fundamentally different relationships with him than his Fox colleagues.
Kaiser explained how he sought guidance from Porat on business matters. He described Porat as an honest individual who could have succeeded former President Richard Englert, who retired in June.
“His integrity was superb,” Kaiser said. “I had no reason ever to doubt what he said.”
Bokhari testified that Porat was a major source of inspiration for him and his philanthropic efforts, specifically his $1 million pledge to the Fox School of Business in 2006.
“To contribute to the level I did before I turned 40 was a direct result of being inspired by Moshe Porat,” Bokhari testified.
The prosecution asked Bokhari about his forced departure from his role as CEO of FSD Pharma Inc., a Canadian biopharmaceutical company. He was ousted from the company after allegedly breaching court order and misappropriating company funds, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Bokhari admitted to the departure from his former company after being pressed repeatedly in a contentious exchange with Nancy Potts, an assistant U.S. attorney for the prosecution.
Defense attorneys wanted to call Joel Slomsky, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, to testify about his decades-long friendship with Porat. The two own side-by-side beach houses at the Jersey Shore.
However, U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert, who is overseeing the trial, did not allow Slomsky to take the stand because they are colleagues, saying the defense did not demonstrate the “extraordinary circumstances” needed to have Slomsky testify.
“Judge Slomsky has judged people in similar circumstances and has formed opinions,” Pappert said.
The jury will hear closing arguments from both sides on Nov. 29 before beginning deliberation.