LOS ANGELES: Reaching a verdict in the federal trial of former Fleishman-Hillard Los Angeles executives Douglas Dowie and John Stodder was "not a terribly emotional decision," according to a juror who participated in the five-day deliberation. "There were concrete facts, and the numbers were just not adding up."
After almost five weeks of testimony, the panel announced its judgment on Tuesday afternoon. Charged with multiple counts of wire fraud and conspiracy in relation to an alleged client over-billing scheme, former Fleishman GM Dowie and SVP public affairs Stodder were found guilty on all counts.
"We looked at each individual count," said juror John Mann, 34, a Pasadena, CA-based television, film, and video-game writer. Mann initially didn't expect deliberations to last as long as they did, he said. Then jurors were confronted with the complexity of the evidence.
The amount of paperwork, Mann recalled, was overwhelming: binder after binder of billing worksheets, employee time sheets, invoices, and e-mails had to be examined and discussed. Ultimately, he said, "the devil was in the details."
The jury was also influenced by the testimony of one-time Fleishman SVP public affairs Steve Sugerman, who held the position prior to Stodder's tenure with the Omnicom-owned firm. Sugerman, who has pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud, told the court that Dowie gave him "very specific instructions."
Several panelists wondered if unjustified billing was "a fairly normal occurrence" at PR agencies, Mann said, noting that he had a "better understanding" of the hourly billing-for-creative-work concept, based on his own writing experience.
Mann also said that some jurors questioned why Dowie and Stodder were singled out for indictment, when Fleishman-circulated e-mails appeared to display that knowledge of allegedly fraudulent billing practices extended as high as the firm's St. Louis-based executive ranks.
Mark Beck, one of Fleishman's Los Angeles-based attorneys, said that in actuality, there was "not a single piece of evidence" to implicate any member of Fleishman's executive staff. "The goal of management in St. Louis," he said, was "to get to the bottom of" the billing issues plaguing the LA office. In fact, Beck said, to assist in the investigation, a legal team hired by Fleishman conducted extensive interviews with past and present employees; in addition, the firm submitted 1.2 million e-mails and reams of billing paperwork for the government to use in preparing its case.
"Nothing was held back," he said.
Fleishman Regional President, Senior Partner, and LA GM Richard Kline reiterated Beck's comments, adding that "absolutely no one in Fleishman-Hillard management had any knowledge whatsoever of inappropriate activities."
Earlier this week, Kline issued a statement noting that the firm was "not a defendant in the trial and has cooperated fully with authorities since the beginning of their inquiry."