Former Fox School of Business Dean Moshe Porat was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison today (March 11) in the first business school rankings scandal to be prosecuted in a criminal court.
Judge Gerald J. Pappert of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia also sentenced Porat to three years of supervised probation, a $250,000 fine, and 300 hours of community service.
“This could be my first case where – from start to finish – I was never given one word or gesture to hang my hat on to be able to say that (the defendant) has had some remorse or that he accepts some responsibility,” Pappert said in a scathing rebuke of Porat from the bench.
PORAT ADDRESSES THE COURT FOR THE FIRST TIME
In delivering his sentence, Pappert at times looked Porat in the eye and spoke to him directly.
“A constant theme coming from Moshe Porat is that he did nothing wrong, that he was betrayed by his subordinates … Any such assertion–which I’ve overheard in his comments and in his smirking from counsel’s table–is insultingly silly. And it is contrary to all of the evidence that the court saw and that the jurors based their decision on.”
Porat’s sentencing brought to a close a saga stretching more than four years. (See Anatomy Of A Business School Rankings Fraud.) In November 2021, 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 in order to boost the performance of the Temple University business school 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.
In his sentencing, Porat addressed the court directly for the first time.
“I’m 75 years old, truly in the twilight of my life, and experiencing systemic illnesses. Not only the heart, but the diabetes is very serious,” he said, audibly trying to fight tears and stop the shakiness of his voice. His wife, who watched the entirety of his trial and this sentencing from a wheelchair, sat behind him with their three grown children and about a dozen supporters.
“And I am the primary caregiver of my wife, Rachel Porat, who suffers a myriad of ailments after a tremendous career of helping premature babies. But she cared for and supported me for nearly 52 years. She badly needs my support, and I need hers. We have very little time left on God’s earth to help others and provide some joy to our six young grandchildren. It is my humble request that you will allow me to help Rachel and others less fortunate than us in the community.”
What Porat did not express, however, was glaring. He offered no remorse nor any acknowledgement of his actions that brought him before the court. That fact seemed to factor heavily in Pappert’s ruling from the bench.
‘THE LYING WAS JUST REMARKABLE’
Though Porat never took the stand in his own defense, jurors did get to hear from him. Prosecutors played a series of clips from video depositions in which Porat was often combative and grew more agitated as the interviewers’ questions became more pointed.
Those snippets–recorded as part of Porat’s $25 million defamation lawsuit against Temple University after his firing in July 2018–often showed an angry, defiant Porat prone to changing his story when confronted with contradictory evidence.
“The lying was just remarkable. And what is unheard of to me is the amount of it he did under oath,” Pappert said in the sentencing.
“This goes to acceptance of responsibility, too. But the filing of that lawsuit–and how he sat for five days of a videotaped deposition, and perjured himself time after time after time, telling lies that were so blatantly false, so blatantly obvious … it was disgraceful,” Pappert said.
TWO OTHER FORMER TEMPLE FOX EMPLOYEES WILL BE SENTENCED IN MAY
“The contempt that someone has to have for our justice system and the arrogance someone has to have to think they can get away with that … says more about Moshe Porat than most of these character letters.” (Porat’s defense attorneys submitted 77 character reference letters before sentencing, all of which Pappert read and considered in his decision, the judge said. None, however, spoke during the sentencing hearing.)
What you hope to see, Pappert continued, when a defendant stands up before the court, is some acceptance of responsibility. Some remorse. Instead, Porat used his one chance to explain himself to talk about his age, illnesses, and need to care for his wife.
“That’s just really disappointing,” Pappert said. “But it’s not surprising because it’s consistent with who he is.”
Instead of accepting any blame for the scandal, Porat pointed the finger at others who worked for him, specifically Marjorie O’Neill, who submitted the false data to U.S. News, and statistics professor Isaac Gottlieb, who reverse-engineered the U.S. News methodology. Gottlieb’s analysis would then be used by Fox to decide which data points to inflate so the school would end up at the top of the rankings. Both O’Neill and Gottlieb have pleaded guilty for their roles and are scheduled to be sentenced in May.
A MUCH LIGHTER SENTENCE THAN THE GOVERNMENT WANTED
The 14-month sentence is much, much lighter than the 9 to 11 years the government argued for in its sentencing memorandum filed with the court before the hearing. Defense, meanwhile, argued for a non-custodial sentence that would include no prison time.
The discrepancy boiled down to how the two camps interpreted the $5.475 million in restitution the government originally sought in its sentencing memorandum. The government arrived at that amount by combining the amount Temple University paid out in two separate class-action lawsuits filed by students in the wake of the scandal.
The government argued that the amount could be used to calculate actual loss (or actual harm) by victims of Porat’s crimes, which is used to calculate a defendant’s “offense level” for sentencing guidelines.
Defense, on the other hand, argued that Temple University was not the victim of the criminal case the state had tried. Victims of Porat’s fraud, according to the state’s case, were students and donors who enrolled at Fox or donated money because of the fraudulent rankings. Never in its case did the state attempt to calculate actual loss to those victims in monetary amounts, other than in a back-of-the-envelope calculation that showed an extra $40 million in tuition gained by climbing enrollments as the school rose in the rankings.
Without the proven “actual harm” in the evidence to the victims of the criminal proceedings, Pappert agreed with defense that a lower offense level was more appropriate for setting sentencing guidelines.
“With great respect to our United State’s Attorney’s Office … to urge a 9 to 11 year sentence on the facts of this case, given the age and other attributes of the defendant and the fact that he is not a threat to society in any way, signals to me a bit of a loss of perspective on the case by the government,” Pappert said.
A SENTENCE OF DETERRENCE?
Based on the lower offense level Pappert accepted in court, he considered the new sentencing guidelines of between 8 and 14 months. Within that frame, he considered a number of “departures” that could have moved the number below or above the guideline base. Defense argued for downward departures of non-custodial sentences based on Porat’s age, health, and strength of character as outlined in the character letters submitted by his family, friends, and colleagues.
The state argued for a significant upward departure based on the severity of the crimes and to act as a deterrent to other school administrators.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first ranking scandal, and it may not be the last. Before this indictment was returned, numerous schools were censured, or fined, or lost their rankings, or they faced no consequences at all for submitting false information to ranking publications,” Assistant U.S. Attorney MaryTeresa Soltis argued on Friday.
“In those situations, a censure, or a fine, or a loss of ranking did not deter future conduct by schools or, frankly, of this defendant. The government submits a significant sentence of imprisonment above the guideline range.”
In the end, Pappert sentenced Porat to the maximum amount of prison time under the new guidelines–14 months. Porat bowed his head at the verdict, and several of his supporters wiped away tears.
Porat has 60 days to report to prison, as is common in cases when defendants are deemed not to be at risk for reoffending.
That is, unless he appeals and is allowed to stay out on bail until that is resolved. His attorney, Michael Swartz, announced his client’s intention to appeal both his conviction and sentence at Friday’s hearing.
TEMPLE UNIVERSITY FOCUSED ON THE FUTURE
When asked for comment, Temple University, home of the Fox School of Business sent the following statement:
“We respect the justice system and the Judge’s sentencing decision made today. With this chapter now closed, both Temple University and the Fox School of Business will continue to focus on delivering the best possible outcomes for our students. We are thoroughly committed to providing a student-centered education and professional development opportunities that are relevant to the digital, global economy of the future,” the university said.
More About The Temple Rankings Scandal
How It Happened: Anatomy Of A Business School Rankings Fraud
Jones Day Investigation: Temple Dean Sacked Over Ranking Scandal
MBA Rankings: Why Business Schools Are Willing To Cheat
Trial Coverage: Trial Begins For Ousted Temple Dean In Rankings Fraud Case
Sentencing recommendations: U.S. Seeks Up To 11 Years Of Prison Time & $5.8 Million From Ousted B-School Dean In Rankings Fraud Case