The former dean of Temple University’s business school was federally charged Friday with orchestrating a complex fraud to boost the college’s reputation and attract students and donors by submitting phony data on its graduate programs to national rankings agencies.
Prosecutors accused Moshe Porat, 74, and two subordinates of reverse engineering the criteria by which the magazine U.S. News & World Report evaluated schools and then falsifying information for years to ensure that programs they oversaw appeared at the top of its lists.
When Temple administrators confronted Porat after discovering the misrepresentations, investigators said, he brushed aside their concerns.
“I just wish you would all stop being so ridiculous,” he told one colleague who attempted to raise an alarm, according to an exchange quoted in court filings. He reportedly rebuffed another, saying: “It’s not like U.S. News is a federal agency.”
But, said Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams in announcing the two-count fraud and conspiracy indictment at a news conference Friday, the consequences for applicants, students, donors, and the university that employed him were very real.
Porat’s purported scheme more than doubled enrollment for Temple’s online and part-time MBA programs between 2014 and 2017, raking in millions in tuition payments from students — some of whom have since sued, arguing the fraud devalued their degrees.
The fallout from the scandal has also driven Temple to reevaluate rankings submissions across the university and to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal settlements to state and federal monitors.
“This was not a victimless crime,” Williams said. “The victims are students, graduates, and donors to the Fox School as well as other universities and their students who were cheated out of their legitimate rankings.”
Porat, who was ousted as dean after the falsified data came to light in 2018, “vigorously denied” the charges in a statement sent by his lawyer Friday.
“Dr. Porat dedicated forty years of his life to serving Temple University, first as a faculty member, and ultimately as dean of the Fox Business School, and he did so with distinction,” attorney Michael A. Schwartz said. “He looks forward to defending himself against these charges and clearing his name.”
Also implicated in the indictment were Marjorie O’Neill, the administrator who oversaw Fox’s submissions to U.S. News, and Isaac Gottlieb, a former statistics professor who prosecutors say cracked the criteria behind the rankings and helped perpetuate the fraud.
Both were charged with one count of conspiracy in a criminal information — a filing that typically suggests a defendant has already agreed to plead guilty. They could face up to five years in prison.
The stakes are considerably higher for Porat, who could receive a sentence of up to 25 years if convicted.
The indictment delivered a remarkable blow to a reputation built over a nearly two-decade tenure overseeing the business school. In that time, he built a reputation as both a rainmaker adept at luring donor dollars and prospective students and as an effective administrator who shepherded Fox’s online MBA program from No. 28 in the rankings in 2013 to No. 1 within two years.
It would maintain that spot for the next four years. And Porat was compensated with a $600,000 salary.
Still, Friday’s charges did not come entirely as a surprise. Porat signaled last month in filings in his $25 million defamation suit against the university that prosecutors had informed him charges were coming.
In his civil case, Porat has sought to shift blame for the fraud to his subordinates and accused Temple president Richard M. Englert of defaming him in the fallout.
Englert has placed responsibility for the fraud squarely on Porat’s shoulders.
“He conceived it, he controlled it and kept it hidden, only to try to cover it up,” Englert’s attorney Carolyn P. Short wrote in a filing last month.
The university declined to comment on Friday’s indictment, but stressed it had cooperated with the investigation and has aimed to be transparent in efforts to clean up the mess.
Court papers in both the civil and criminal cases portray Porat as obsessed with Fox’s positioning on collegiate ranking lists, pushing his staff to propel the school toward the top.
When results failed to materialize quickly, he replaced the team that had overseen the school’s submissions with a handpicked group led by Gottlieb and O’Neill.
» READ MORE: Did rankings craze hurt Temple's business school?
A breakthrough came in 2013, when, according to the indictment, O’Neill traveled to Washington to complain to U.S. News representatives about a ranking the school believed to be unfair.
Though the magazine refused to change Temple’s position on the list, she gleaned something potentially more valuable from the meeting: an admission from the magazine’s staff that they did not audit information schools sent them.
It was then, the indictment says, that Porat’s scheme to game the rankings system kicked into high gear.
By 2014, Fox was routinely misreporting the selectivity of admissions to their online and part-time MBA programs, the GPAs of incoming students, the number who had taken graduate entrance exams, and the average amount of debt they incurred after enrollment.
Those lies propelled Temple’s online MBA program to No. 1 on the list. But as that success continued, others outside Porat’s inner circle began to question the school’s success.
Tom Kegelman, the assistant dean in charge of admissions, raised alarms in 2018 after discovering that Fox had falsely reported 100% of its online MBA students had taken a graduate entry exam, according to his deposition in the defamation case.
Porat resisted Kegelman’s calls to correct the error and instead abruptly cut off their debate to attend a champagne toast to celebrate the school’s fourth year at the top, the indictment says.
Porat also continued to push the university’s marketing department to send emails to donors touting Fox’s prime position well after others had warned him the rankings were wrong.
Secretly, prosecutors said, he and Gottlieb had recalculated what the school’s rank would be with accurate information on its students and learned the school would drop from the top spot down to No. 6.
When interviewed by FBI agents in 2019, Gottlieb insisted he knew nothing about the fraud. His attorney, Michael J. Engle, declined to comment Friday. O’Neill’s lawyer did not return requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Porat continues to maintain that the university has turned him into a scapegoat, even as he concedes that his push to advertise the school based off a No. 1 ranking he knew was flawed was a mistake.
“Today, I think it was pretty stupid,” he said in a deposition last summer in his defamation case. “I own it.”
Still, in his testimony, he lamented that people he’s known for 40 years have not “even sen[t him] a sympathy card” since his ouster.
And yet, while Porat’s reputation may have taken a blow, he remains on Temple’s staff as a tenured professor, making roughly $316,000 a year — a salary he said in his deposition he now earns for doing nothing.
Read the indictment: