Moshe Porat, the former dean of the Fox School of Business, is guilty of conspiracy and wire fraud for his role in leading the school’s scheme to submit false rankings data to U.S. News and World Report from 2014 to 2018.
“We respect the justice system and the jury’s decision in this matter,” wrote Stephen Orbanek, a university spokesperson, in a statement to The Temple News. “The evidence presented at the trial speaks for itself but is not representative of Temple or the overwhelming majority of the thousands of educational professionals serving our students.”
Fox misreported data on the number of applicants who submitted test scores, acceptance rates, undergraduate grade point averages and student debt, according to Jones Day, an international law firm that investigated Fox following the discovery of erroneous submissions.
Marjorie O’Neill, the former senior director at Fox, and Isaac Gottlieb, a former statistical science professor, were also indicted on charges for their involvement in the scandal, The Temple News reported. Both pleaded guilty earlier this year.
Porat’s trial began on Nov. 9 at the James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse on Market Street near 6th, and the prosecution and defense made their closing arguments this morning. The jury reached its verdict after a little more than an hour of deliberation.
The prosecution — led by assistant U.S. attorneys Mark Dubnoff and Nancy Potts — argued the false data submissions were a result of Porat’s long-held fixation with rankings, not an innocent mistake, The Temple News reported.
Troutman Pepper attorneys Michael A. Schwartz and Richard J. Zack represented Porat, arguing he was scapegoated for the scandal and blaming other Temple employees for the erroneous submissions, The Temple News reported.
“This is an unhappy moment for our students and alumni, but our focus remains on delivering the best possible outcomes for our students,” Orbanek wrote.
PROSECUTION’S CLOSING STATEMENTS
In his closing argument before the jury, Dubnoff argued Porat intentionally deceived students, applicants and donors through the false submissions to U.S. News and World Report.
Porat cemented his guilt through his attempts to downplay the seriousness of the false submissions, Dubnoff said. As an example, Dubnoff pointed to Porat’s decision to celebrate Fox’s top ranking at a 2018 champagne toast, despite knowing it was the result of erroneous data.
“He wanted to treat this fraud as if it were no big deal,” Dubnoff said.
Porat’s actions constituted wire fraud because he authorized two emails touting Fox’s top rankings for its online master’s of business administration program — one on Jan. 9, 2018, to recruiters and one on Jan. 22, 2018, to donors and potential donors, many outside of Pennsylvania — despite knowing about the misreported data, Dubnoff said.
“[Porat’s] legacy is built on fraud,” Dubnoff said.
Porat’s fixation with rankings was influenced by money as enrollment and tuition in Fox soared due to the high rankings, Dubnoff argued.
DEFENSE’S CLOSING STATEMENTS
Schwartz began the defense’s closing statements by emphasizing Porat’s 40 years of dedication to Fox, arguing his actions did not amount to wire fraud or conspiracy, even though he failed to properly respond to the misreported data and was appropriately fired.
“There’s nothing criminal about being a demanding and abusive boss with high expectations,” Schwartz said.
Porat himself did not submit the falsified rankings data, and his actions were an attempt to protect his legacy, not cover up wrongdoing, Schwartz said.
Other senior leaders at Fox, Temple’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment and U.S. News and World Report should also be held responsible for their failure to stop O’Neill’s misreported data, Schwartz said.
For example, the defense pointed to the positive performance review that Diana Breslin-Knudsen, former senior vice dean at Fox, gave O’Neill, arguing other employees could have intervened in the submission process.
“[O’Neill] is doing a good job to make sure we are accurate and consistent in data reporting,” Breslin-Knudsen wrote, in an email from January 2013 to Porat and other Fox administrators.
Porat will be sentenced on March 11, 2022, and could face up to 25 years for the most serious charge.