The president of TBWA/Chiat/Day New York, Shona Seifert, has been granted three months paid leave of absence to prepare her trial defense against charges of overbilling the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy over the period 2001-2002 while handling the account at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

In a case that has disquieting overtones of the Salem witch-hunts, Seifert stands accused alongside anther former O&M executive Thomas Early. They are arraigned for alleged overbilling of the ONDCP by falsifying time sheets and other documents.

A third O&M staffer, Peter Chrisanthopoulos, has pleaded guilty to the charges, which O&M claims were mistakes for which the government has since been compensated to the tune of $1.8 million (€1.46m; £995.8k).

People close to the matter believe that prosecutors may have may have entered into a plea-bargain deal with Chrisanthopoulos.

Insists Seifert: "I have never committed any wrongdoing at any point in my life, and I am facing a February trial on charges of which I am confident I will be exonerated. This will require my complete attention, so I have asked TBWA for a three-month leave of absence beginning January 1 2005."

In the run-up to her leave she will work with Brett Gosper, appointed in August to the new position of president of TBWA New York Group, "to ensure a smooth transition between now and the end of the year."

The $130 million ONCDP account is seen by many on Madison Avenue as a poisoned chalice. It is currently up for pitch, but only two contenders (Foote Cone & Belding and J Walter Thompson) have displayed any serious interest in this apparently glittering prize.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff