BROOKLYN, NY: In an unprecedented move, US district judge Jack Weinstein last week declined to sentence seven former employees of the Tribune Company found guilty of fraudulently boosting circulation data at Newsday magazine and its Spanish-language sibling Hoy.

He postponed sentencing on the grounds that the sentences demanded by federal prosecutors were disproportionately severe. Moreover, he deemed the accused to be "underlings" who were taking the rap for their bosses.

In particular the judge singled out former Newsday publisher Raymond Jansen who, he said, had "always had a hands-on approach to Newsday." Asked Weinstein rhetorically: "Why wasn't the publisher prosecuted along with the underlings?"

Jansen, who is no longer with Tribune and now resides in the Florida sun, told Newsday three years ago he blamed the scam on a "rogue operation" within the circulation department.

Turning to sentencing, Judge Weinstein opined that it would be more appropriate for the defendants, all of whom pled guilty to the charges, to pay substantial fines from their personal assets rather than serve a jail term as sought by the prosecution.

He asked lawyers from both sides to file briefs on the issue before he imposed a sentence.

Over a four year period between 2000 and 2004, Newsday acknowledged it had inflated average circulation numbers by nearly 100,000 copies on weekdays and Sundays. Moreover, say prosecutors, Hoy doubled its reported circulation.

The company has set aside $90 million (€62.67m; £45.38m) to reimburse advertisers.

Data sourced from Business Week (online) and Associated Press; additional content by WARC staff