The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction of Moshe Porat for wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy in a rankings scandal that has lingered for more than half a decade. Porat has 14 days to request a review of the court’s decision.
Porat, former dean of Temple University’s Fox School of Business, appealed his case before the court on May 18, 2023, more than a year after he was set to report to prison to serve his 14-month sentence for his role in repeatedly lying to U.S. News & World Report on various MBA rankings between 2014 and 2018. Porat was also ordered to pay a $250,000 fine.
The Third Circuit’s ruling was filed Monday (August 7) and rejects all of Porat’s four main appeal arguments.
“Based on the evidence at trial, a rational jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Porat engaged in the kind of scheme the wire fraud statute criminalizes: that is, that Porat trumpeted Fox’s knowingly false, inflated rankings to students for the purpose of enticing his victims to pay tuition money,” the majority ruling, written by Circuit Judge Cindy K. Chung.
WHAT THE APPELLATE COURT FOUND
Porat’s appeal makes four main arguments.
First, that he did not deprive his victims of money as required by the criminal statutes with which he was charged. He argued that students were deprived only of higher rankings, and “rankings are not property,” according to the majority ruling, written by Circuit Judge Cindy Chung.
“But Porat was not convicted on the theory that he deprived students of rankings; he was convicted for depriving them of tuition money. The Indictment charged that Porat used deception to ‘attract more students to apply to Fox, matriculate at Fox, and pay tuition to Fox,’” the ruling states. “Thus, despite Porat’s attempt to redirect focus to the rankings, money was an object of his scheme.”
Second, Porat argued that students received the “essential benefit of the bargain, an education,” so he did not deprive them of money or property. The court also rejected that argument.
“To be sure, it is commonly understood and fully expected that a school’s ranking, and the current and future value of a particular school’s degree, may fluctuate over time in the normal course, e.g., with changes in a school’s administration, faculty, and student body, as well as changes in the overall marketplace. But it is not commonly understood or expected that a ranking will soar or plummet as a result of deceit or misrepresentation. While Porat asserts that the bargain only encompassed an exchange of tuition for education, the jury was free to come to a different conclusion,” the ruling states.
PORAT FREQUENTLY TOUTED TAINTED RANKINGS
Third, Porat argued that the government failed to prove that he personally gained money or property from his victims. The court ruled that the government did not have to prove such, and that the statutes Porat was charged with make no reference to what a defendant personally receives in their schemes.
Finally, Porat asked the court to adopt a “convergence” requirement for wire fraud, a requirement that the defendant deceives the same party that he defrauds of money. In other words, because Porat deceived U.S. News with false rankings data, but was convicted of defrauding Fox students, applicants, and donors out of money, the conviction should not stand.
The court noted that Porat also deceived victims by touting the tainted rankings in emails, advertising, the infamous champagne toast, and other instances. The court also noted that it rejected Porat’s argument because convergence is not required in the wire fraud statute.
AN ABBREVIATED TIMELINE OF COURT PROCEEDINGS
By any measure, Porat’s legal woes have been a long unraveling saga. His scheme to lie on U.S. News’ ranking publicly started to unfold in January 2018 when Poets&Quants noted with surprise that 100% of its online MBA students provided a GMAT or GRE scores, according to the ranking, despite the fact that the school publicly advertised a test waiver. But evidence presented at trial suggested that Fox may have submitted false data to ranking publications as early as 2010, according to the appellate court’s ruling.
Porat’s actual criminal exposure has been going on for half a decade. Here’s an abbreviated timeline of how it transpired:
January 2018: Poets&Quants highlights the fact that Fox “claimed” that 100% of the incoming class of online MBA students provided either a GMAT score or a GRE score, raising suspicions of Fox associate deans and staff who knew this was not the case. U.S. News kicked Fox out of its online MBA ranking three weeks later after learning of the discrepancy.
July 2018: Temple University calls for Porat’s resignation after Jones Day – a law firm hired to complete an independent review of the data fraud allegations – found numerous examples of misreported data, if not outright fraud, along with evidence of a cover-up.
April 15, 2021: A grand jury charges Porat with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud by conspiring with Fox staffer Marjorie O’Neill and statistics professor Isaac Gottlieb to “devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property from Fox applicants, students, and donors, by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises.” Porat later moved to dismiss the indictment, but his motion was denied.
November 9, 2021: Porat’s Trial begins Eastern District of Pennsylvania District Court in Philadelphia. Testimony lasts seven days. (See: ‘I Paid For Fine Dining, But I Got McDonald’s’: MBA Student Testifies In Rankings Fraud Trial, Fox Dean Promoted Book In Wake Of Unranking, and ‘An Intimidating Man’ Who Made Staffers ‘Tremble’)
November 29, 2021: The jury of eight women and four men convicts Porat of both charges after deliberating for less than an hour. Porat’s defense calls 10 character witnesses, a mix of personal friends, Fox colleagues and students, and local business people, but Porat himself does not testifies. Porat files a post-trial motion for acquittal based almost immediately, but it is also denied.
March 11, 2022: Judge Gerald J. Pappert sentences Porat to 14 months in prison and a fine of $250,200. (Prosecutors had asked for 9 to 11 years in prison and restitution of $5.475 million.) “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 says in a scathing rebuke of Porat from the bench. Pappert immediately notifies court of his intention to appeal.
May 9, 2022: Porat is scheduled to report to jail. However, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in and stayed both his prison sentence and fine pending his appeal, allowing Porat to go home.
May 18, 2023: Appellate Court hears oral arguments. U.S. Attorney Mark B. Dubnoff argues on behalf of the government, while Alexandra A.E. Shapiro argues on behalf of Porat.
August 7, 2023: Appellate Court upholds Porat’s conviction and fine, ruling that evidence presented at trial was sufficient to convict him.
It’s unclear when, or if, he will report to prison. Porat has 14 days to request a review of the case, and history indicates that he likely will.
DON’T MISS P&Q’S COVERAGE OF PORAT’S TRIAL AND SENTENCING
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