Federal prosecutors are demanding that a man they call a “congenital liar and serial fraudster” serve 30 years in prison and pay a $60 million fine after a jury convicted him of defrauding actors Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte and others out of more than $35 million.
If US District Judge Charles Breyer agrees to the sentence on Monday, it would represent one of the harshest penalties ever meted out in a white collar case. Not even Jeff Skilling, the architect of Enron Corp.’s criminal collapse, was sentenced to that much prison time. Skilling is currently serving a 24-year, four-month sentence.
Assistant US attorneys W. Douglas Sprague and Hallie Mitchell argue in court papers that the harsh sentence is warranted because of the financial and emotional toll the fraud had on the victims, the extent Samuel “Mouli” Cohen went to cover up his scam and his refusal to accept responsibility.
“This unrepentant con man with a militant lack of responsibility has blamed everyone - the victims, the Court, his attorneys, the government, the Probation Officer, and the Court reporter - for his actions and their consequences except the person responsible for it,” prosecutors write in a court filing.
Rides on Cohen's rented private jet. Lopez (Photo: Reuters)
Most notably, Cohen’s fraud caused the collapse of the Vanguard Public Foundation, a nonprofit launched in 1972 that awarded grants to a vast array of social causes. Many of Cohen’s victims, including Glover and Belafonte, were associated with the foundation, which supported anti-war causes, environmental groups and other politically liberal issues. Prosecutors said Cohen even preyed on his father-in-law, looting his retirement account.
A federal jury in November convicted Cohen of 15 counts of wire fraud, 11 counts of money laundering and three counts of tax evasion after a three week trial in San Francisco federal court. His lawyer said Cohen will appeal the conviction.
Cohen, 53, is a son of Russian immigrants who was raised in Jerusalem. He moved to the United States in 1987 and became a United States citizen, though prosecutors allege he falsely told victims that the first President Bush personally granted him citizenship.
Cohen was convicted of falsely telling investors beginning in 2002 that a company he launched called Ecast that made electronic jukeboxes for bars was about to be acquired by Microsoft Corp. Prosecutors said Cohen kept the scheme going by soliciting more money from victims with complaints that US and then European regulators were holding up the deal, which required additional investments to pay nonexistent fees and bonds needed to push the deal to approval.
Prosecutors say none of that was true. Instead, they said Cohen used the millions to fund an “absurd lifestyle” that included helping his wife publish a cookbook called “The Kosher Billionaire’s Secret Recipe.”
Prosecutors allege that he jetted around the country in a rented private jet that he to claim to have owned, giving rides to the likes of singer Elton John and actress Jennifer Lopez, neither of which are included on the victims list.
Prosecutors say that Cohen rented a mansion in the wealthy enclave of Belvedere just north of San Francisco and decorated the house with copies of famous paintings from Picasso, Miro and Matisse and other noted artists. But prosecutors said he solicited investments during parties at his house, which he told victims he owned while showing them the artwork he deemed were originals. Prosecutors said that was all part of a ruse to portray himself as a wealthy and savvy businessman.
Cohen’s attorney is asking for a sentence of less than nine years.
“A 30 year sentence is excessive for a 53-year old first-time offender, who has a long history of selfless acts and entrepreneurial innovation,” Cohen’s attorney Marcus S. Topel wrote in a court filing, pointing out that his client has donated at least $2 million to charity.