In terms of years and dollars, what is the appropriate punishment for repeatedly lying to a rankings magazine and, in the process, defrauding donors and business school students out of millions of dollars?
The U.S. government thinks the answer is 9 to 11 years in prison, $5.475 million in restitution, and a $300,000 fine.
Moshe Porat, the former dean at the center of one of the biggest rankings scandals in history, will argue at his sentencing this week that he should instead face a non-custodial sentence.
Porat, the former dean of Temple University’s Fox School of Business, will be sentenced on Friday (March 11) in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s federal courthouse in Philadelphia. The final chapter in his downfall comes more than three months after a jury convicted Porat on one count each of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for repeatedly lying to U.S. News & World Report to boost Temple Fox’s performance in its online and part-time MBA rankings. After seven days of testimony, it took the jury less than an hour to return a guilty verdict.
First University Leader Prosecuted & Found Guilty Of Cheating In Rankings
Porat is the first-known university administrator to face a criminal trial for lying to a rankings magazine, according to the government’s sentencing memorandum.
In his sentencing Friday, prosecutors will argue for the maximum punishments allowed under the sentencing guidelines while defense will plead for leniency, according to the two camps’ sentencing memoranda filed with the court on March 4. Defense is asking for a non-custodial sentence that would not include prison time.
“He has suffered more than enough and incarceration will not further any aim. His public humiliation and lifetime of service destroyed are surely enough deterrence and penitence,” Porat’s son, Samuel Porat, writes in a letter to the court, filed as part of the defense’s sentencing memorandum.
“My father has much more to give to the world. He has always been curious and engaging; he has always been charitable with his time and money; he has always been a great advisor to so many. He has been a light to his community. Please do not extinguish this light.”
The government disagrees.
“Moshe Porat is a remorseless, shameless, and dishonest man who caused real harm to hundreds of people whom Porat knew relied on the Ranking Publications for guidance in deciding where to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a business school education,” the government wrote in its memorandum.
“Porat lied directly to Fox applicants, students, and donors.”
Government: Scheme At Temple Fox Led To $40 Million In Extra Tuition
Porat’s sentencing comes four years after the Fox School of Business admitted that it knowingly and repeatedly reported false data to U.S. News in order to boost the school’s ranking. The trial, which included a day of jury selection and eight days of testimony and arguments, refocused national attention on Temple, which launched an investigation in 2018 after after an article in Poets&Quants expressed skepticism at Fox’s claim that 100% of its incoming online MBA candidates had submitted GMAT or GRE scores to the school. The scandal led to Porat’s firing and a class-action lawsuit by former MBA students.
Between 2014 and 2018, the jury found that Porat conspired to deceive the rankings magazine, leading to four consecutive No. 1 rankings for Fox’s online MBA program. Other data discrepancies in Fox’s part-time MBA program helped that program shoot up in U.S. News’ PMBA rankings as well. Enrollments soared in both programs, and the scheme raked in $40 million in extra tuition, according to testimony in the trial.
Jurors heard testimony from former students, Fox employees, a Temple provost, and investigators. Student Ibrahim Fetahi told jurors that his online MBA from Fox, which he selected for its No. 1 ranking at the time, was not worth the $100,000 he has in outstanding debt. “In my mind, I paid for fine dining, but I got McDonald’s,” he testified. John A. Byrne, founder of C-Change Media and editor-in-chief of Poets&Quants, was called as an expert witness in rankings and business education.
Prosecution Seeks Maximum Sentence For Former Dean Moshe Porat
At Friday’s sentencing, Prosecutors will ask for 108 to 135 months in prison, based on a legal formula to establish sentencing guidelines. It also seeks the highest fine established in the guidelines of between $30,000 to $300,000, and $5.475 in restitution to Temple University–the amount the university paid to settle two class-action lawsuits brought by students in the wake of the scandal.
The government contends that Porat’s deception began in the early 2000s, after he formed the rankings committee to help Fox strategically respond to various rankings. The government cites a letter from Donna Ferrari, Fox’s full-time MBA program director from 2000 to 2005, to Temple President Richard Englert and other administrators.
“Porat organized and DEMANDED misleading data for decades, not just the last couple of years. And when the people doing the collection and reporting objected, they were laid-off or became ill or both. I know because I did rankings 15 years ago at Fox,” reads Ferrari’s letter written in October 2018 after the ranking scandal had come to light. “Porat routinely required that we change admission semesters so that low GMAT scores or lack of work experience did not appear in the data … Porat DEMANDED you lie, and when you fought back, you suffered.”
Ferrari wrote that she lost her job, and was forced to sign an NDA so that Fox would not contest her unemployment insurance claim. (The government did not call Ferrari during the trial because she no longer worked at Fox at the time of the crime, the government says. But it highlights her letter to show the ‘history and characteristics of the defendant’ for sentencing purposes.”)
The NDA reference is interesting because it echoes trial testimony of Temple University Provost JoAnne Epps. Epps told the court that after the ranking scandal came to the university’s attention, Porat argued that Marjorie O’Neill (one of Porat’s co-conspirators) should be allowed to retire and required to sign an NDA. Porat repeated the NDA suggestion at subsequent meetings, Epps testified.
“The thought was that we would send her off as long as she signed an NDA,” Epps testified. “I recall saying, ‘To keep her from saying what?’”
Moshe Porat’s Defense Implores Court For Leniency
Porat’s defense is arguing for a custodial sentence of zero to six months, and no restitution. The rankings scandal and his conviction in federal court already cost him his job, his reputation, and significant financial loss. Defense also argues that Porat’s actions were influenced by a driving desire to improve Fox School of Business and not to enrich himself.
Defense is urging the court to consider Porat’s individual circumstances and impose a sentence that is “sufficient, but not greater than necessary to comply with the purposes” of sentencing, according to the defense sentencing memorandum.
In its memorandum, defense presented nearly 80 character reference letters from Porat’s family, friends, colleagues, former students, local business people, and past and present members of Temple University. They paint a picture of a 75-year-old man of declining health in the “evening of his life.” A father of three, grandfather of six, and a devoted husband of 51 years to Dr. Rachel Porat, a respected neonatologist.
Porat was born in Poland in 1947. His father was just one of two siblings, out of six, to have survived the Holocaust and his mother was the only one in her family of nine to have survived. His family immigrated to Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1956, and he later served in the Israeli Army Reserve during the October 1973 war. He immigrated again in 1976, this time taking his young family to the United States. Porat enrolled in Temple University’s Business Administration Doctorate Program which began a 40-plus year career at the university. He was appointed dean at Fox in 1996.
Friends and colleagues describe Porat as a passionate but tough administrator who demanded excellence and got results: He attracted top researchers and acclaimed educators to the faculty. He worked to find jobs and opportunities for Fox students and expanded Fox’s academic programs. He raised millions of dollars to build and renovate three Temple facilities, including Fox’s Alter Hall–Fox’s state-of-the-art, $80-million flagship facility which opened in 2008.
“There are preciously few persons who match your spirit, energy, dedication and resourcefulness,” former Temple President and Chancellor Peter Liacouras wrote in a 2009 email to Porat as the school prepared to dedicate the new facility. “Fewer yet who could have conceived, planned, inspired, fought, overcome powerful obstructions, and successfully drove this dream to fruition.”
At least half a dozen current Temple faculty also wrote letters on Porat’s behalf, including Simon Hakim, professor of economics and the director of the Center for Competitive Government. “I must say that former Dean Porat was committed to Temple in all his roles as professor, researcher, chairman of the Insurance & Risk department and then as a Dean of the Fox School. His top priority was always to help and direct students. His vision and actions were far reaching in academic planning, the future growth of technology in business education, quality of faculty, the role of the school in the business community of the city, and the architecture and accommodations of the buildings,” Hakim writes.
“My feeling was that he brought activities, external funding, and ‘life’ to the place that I never experienced in the many previous years I was a member of the business school.”
Great Teacher awardee and Fox professor Samuel Hodge writes, “I owe much of the recognition that I have received as an award- winning instructor to him because I was given the freedom to teach my students in an unorthodox manner …”
Porat’s Daughter To Court: ‘I Beg For Your Mercy’
Since his ouster as Fox dean and throughout the criminal proceedings, Porat’s health has suffered, defense argues in its memorandum. He suffers from cardiac issues, depression, anxiety, and other ailments. He is also the sole caregiver of his 71-year-old wife who broke her back shortly before the start of his trial. She’s endured at least two surgeries, watched his trial from a wheelchair, and requires 24-hour care.
Friends and family implored the court for leniency in their character letters, few of them more impassioned than the letter from his daughter, Galia Porat. She is the youngest of his three children, and attended every day of his trial in November, often consoling her mother or leaning on her own siblings for support.
“I ask Your Honor to please evaluate and judge my father holistically. Please do not isolate on what you heard at trial, but view him as I do, a principled but at times difficult man who only had the best intentions to better himself, his students at Fox and his family,” she writes.
“The last few years, especially in this last year with the trial and my mother’s significant health decline, have humbled him tremendously. In fact, his care of my ailing mother during the last few months, is the most compassionate dedication I have seen him give in my lifetime. My mother needs him desperately, and there simply is no adequate replacement for his love, devotion and care of her in her greatest time of need. The hardest part of this situation is fearing what will happen to her without him, and I beg for your mercy to let him live the rest of his days taking care of her.”
Porat Did Not Take The Stand In His Defense & Blamed Others For The Scandal
Porat’s co-conspirators–former Fox professor Isaac Gottlieb and former Fox finance manager Marjorie O’Neill–each pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the case this summer.
While Porat never took the stand in his defense, jurors did get to hear from him. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Dubnoff played a series of clips from video depositions taken over five days in the summer of 2020. The depositions were recorded as part of Porat’s $25 million defamation lawsuit against Temple University after his firing. In the clips, Porat was often combative and grew more agitated with interviewers as their questions became more pointed. He also “repeatedly perjured himself,” the government says in its sentencing memorandum.
Porat was fired from his job as dean in 2018, but did not resign as a tenured professor. He continued to collect $316,000 per year from Temple though he didn’t teach any classes or complete any research, the government says. He finally resigned from his tenure position in December after his conviction.