Monday, December 21, 2015

134: Federal Criminal Charges Result in the Sentencing of an Insurance Executive to 37 Years in Prison

On December 10, 2015, U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles, Jr. sentenced Jeffrey Brian Cohen (Reisterstown, MD) to 37 years in prison on federal criminal charges. On the same day, the U.S. Attorney in Maryland issued a four-page press release entitled "Jeffrey Cohen Sentenced to 37 Years in Prison in Massive Insurance Fraud Scheme." The subtitle is "Defendant Fraudulently Obtained More Than $100 Million in Premiums from Thousands of Insureds for His Personal Benefit; Then He Planned to Kill Attorneys, Judge and Government Official." The U.S. Attorney said: "The evidence demonstrated that Jeffrey Cohen was a chronic con artist who was planning to commit murder to prevent his fraud schemes from coming to light." Assisting the U.S. Attorney in the investigation were the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Postal Inspection Service. (See U.S. v. Cohen, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland, Case No. 1:14-cr-310.)

Cohen, now aged 40, was president and chairman of the board of Indemnity Insurance Corporation RRG (Sparks, MD). He also controlled several other entities. Indemnity was domiciled in Delaware for regulatory purposes. Indemnity sold general liability insurance, liquor liability insurance, and excess liability insurance in several states. In 2012 Indemnity had more than 3,000 policyholders, especially in the entertainment industry, and collected more than $25 million in premiums.

Cohen diverted, to his own personal benefit, premiums intended for Indemnity. To conceal the missing company assets, Cohen submitted fraudulent financial statements and other fraudulent documents to insurance regulators, independent accounting firms, banks, reinsurance companies, a premium finance company, and policyholders. He also provided fraudulent documents to A. M. Best Company, which assigned an A– (Excellent) financial strength rating to Indemnity. Cohen touted Best's rating to customers and others.

Cohen threatened, attempted to intimidate, and even planned to kill attorneys involved in grand jury proceedings and Delaware government officials. He acquired powerful weapons, ammunition, and explosive materials. He created a "Target List" and assembled information about the potential victims' home addresses and family members.

Criminal Charges
On June 24, 2014, the U.S. Attorney filed a five-count indictment against Cohen. A magistrate judge issued a detention order and appointed a public defender. On September 16 the U.S. Attorney filed a 12-count superseding indictment. Cohen pleaded not guilty on all counts. On November 17, after Cohen chose to represent himself, a magistrate appointed a standby attorney for Cohen.

On November 25, 2014, the U.S. Attorney filed a 31-count second superseding indictment. On December 2 the U.S. Attorney filed a 31-count third superseding indictment. The latter included counts of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, false statements to an insurance regulator, obstruction of justice, and money laundering. On March 30, 2015, Cohen pleaded not guilty on all counts.

Trial and Sentence
On June 1, 2015, a jury trial began before Judge Quarles. It was expected to last four weeks. However, after four days, Cohen pleaded guilty to one count each of wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, false statement to an insurance regulator, and obstruction of justice. The U.S. Attorney dropped the other 27 counts. On August 3 Cohen filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. On September 10 the judge denied the motion.

On December 10 Judge Quarles announced verbally in court that he was sentencing Cohen to 37 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. On the same day, Cohen filed what purports to be a notice that he will appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit despite the fact that the plea agreement says "the defendant knowingly waives all right, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1291, or otherwise, to appeal the defendant's conviction and whatever sentence is imposed."

On December 14 Judge Quarles filed a judgment confirming the sentence and requiring Cohen to pay restitution of $137 million. Here are the key provisions relating to the sentence:
The defendant is hereby committed to the custody of the United States Bureau of Prisons to be imprisoned for a period of 240 months as to Count 1 [wire fraud]; 180 months as to count 24 [false statement to a regulator] to run consecutive to Count 1; 240 months as to Count 28 [obstruction of justice] to run concurrent to Counts 1 and 24; and 24 months as to Count 20 [aggravated identity theft] to run consecutive to Counts 1, 24 and 28 for a total of 444 months.
Upon release from imprisonment, the defendant shall be on supervised release for a term of 3 years as to Counts 1, 24, and 28 to run concurrent to each other; and 1 year as to Count 20 to run concurrent to Counts 1, 24, and 28 for a total term of 3 years.
General Observations
There are at least four interesting aspects of this case. First, despite the seriousness of the charges, Cohen chose to represent himself rather than retain an attorney. Initially a magistrate appointed a federal public defender. Cohen soon rejected the public defender and chose to represent himself; a magistrate then appointed a standby attorney. Still later Cohen rejected the standby attorney. Finally, when he submitted what purports to be a notice of appeal, he requested an attorney.

Second, according to the plea agreement, "Cohen re-domiciled to Delaware after difficulties in District of Columbia." I have filed public records requests with the Delaware and District of Columbia insurance departments seeking documents relating to the redomestication process.

Third, the case began with civil charges by the Delaware insurance commissioner. Later the case was referred to federal prosecutors and other federal authorities.

Fourth, the Cohen case was reported in local media outlets, but I believe that the case was not reported in major outlets such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. My first knowledge of the case was a story in A. M. Best's BestDay by Washington correspondent Frank Klimko on December 11, the day after the U.S. Attorney's press release.

Available Material
I am offering a 50-page complimentary PDF consisting of four items: the four-page press release issued by the U.S. Attorney, the 25-page third superseding indictment, the 15-page plea agreement, and the six-page judgment. E-mail and ask for the December 2015 package relating to the case of U.S. v. Cohen.