The good news for Cohen apologists is he’s actually had more than three clients after all.
The bad news? Yeah, about that …
I spent the better part of a decade investigating auto insurance fraud. Working in that field opens your eyes to some realities most Americans are totally unaware of. Like the fact that insurance fraud is a multi-billion dollar “industry” every year in our country. Or the fact that numerous fraud rings, typically a dozen people or more, operate in every major city in the United States. And for many of these people, this is their full-time (fairly lucrative) job. But you also learn something about their attorneys—they come in two types: those that drop their clients and run away at the first whiff of any shenanigans that could get them disbarred, and those who seem to pop up in these cases again and again nonplussed … because they’re charter members of the ring. In light of a new bombshell report from Rolling Stone this week, Michael Cohen, Trump‘s personal attorney, might as well be the the poster boy for the second type of lawyer. The man’s had his fingers in more rings than Tom Brady.
According to the report, Cohen represented numerous auto claimants over the years who were not only suspected, but in fact convicted of insurance fraud. In multiple cases, the convictions were connected to organized fraud rings. Is it possible Cohen was an unwitting participant? That he was simply an ambulance-chaser that kept falling into the same traps with no knowledge of the illicit activity of his clients? Uh, no. That’s not how that works. Based on my experience, when an attorney follows a certain pattern, over an extended period of time, he not only knows what’s going on, he’s nearly always one of the key players in the scheme.
It’s simply inconceivable (a word that means exactly what you think it means) that Michael Cohen was anything short of a straight-up, serial point man for running insurance fraud scams. I could be wrong (fact check: false), but here’s my take:
First, Cohen’s background strongly supports this interpretation. As Rolling Stone reports, when Cohen was fresh out of law school, his very first job was working for Melvyn J Estrin. Back in the ‘70’s, Estrin was notorious for actively encouraging medical providers to run up excessive bills in order to take advantage of New York’s new no-fault insurance laws. This was apparently Cohen’s mentor. Cohen stayed with the firm until 1995, the year that Estrin plead guilty to repeatedly bribing claims adjusters. As one does. Mhm.
Cohen would subsequently go on to make quite a career for himself filing high-dollar bodily injury claims on behalf of questionable clients. Various companies dragged him to court to block such claims; according to records, this happened nearly 100 times between 1998-2003. And no, that’s not normal. Not in the context of insurance companies crying “foul”, at least.
Many of these cases went…poorly for Cohen clients. Multiple cases brought by State Farm in the early 2000’s resulted not only in the claims being dismissed, but with legal consequences for his clients, including prison time. A Haitian woman who had been part of a stolen identity ring falsely claimed she was the driver in an accident she wasn’t even involved in. Another four Cohen clients from a staged-accident ring (responsible for 10 “accidents” in under two years) declined to contest felony fraud charges against them. Enterprise was also targeted in 2002, when Cohen brought a $1 million injury suit against them for a woman in a rental vehicle. Turns out she and the other driver were both involved with a group that was staging accidents with numerous rentals, often U-Haul trucks (a surprisingly common scheme). That ring raked in $350K in claim settlements before they got caught. Both of the individuals in Cohen’s case ended up in jail.
Look, it’s possible for anybody to get taken in by shifty people once in a while. But attorneys don’t fall for this kind of thing repeatedly. They know too much. They find out their “accident” “victims’” background; they see the same evidence the insurers do, and know when a claim is referred to their Special Investigative Unit; they recognize the persons and businesses they’re connected to. When something smells fishy, smart lawyers don’t want any part of it—their own risk is too great. What’s important here is that Michael Cohen not only frequently filed suits on behalf of organized fraud groups, but that he stuck with them after they were under scrutiny, and even represented some of them when they were prosecuted for that fraud. This, again, is not normal.
Moreover, the major rings don’t act in isolation at the claimant level. They need help, so they typically include medical providers, body shops, and law firms in their ongoing operations—business partners they know they can trust and are just as complicit in covering up and profiting from the fake claims. When known fraud perpetrators repeatedly hire the same attorney, there’s a reason. It’s not just that they’ll look the other way; they’re part of the team, if not the actual coaches.
Another tell-tale sign of premeditated fraud is the use of dodgy addresses for claim correspondence. For much of his auto claims work, instead of his law office, Cohen used the address of a taxi fleet garage in Queens (I have a crazy story about another New York-area cab company functioning as a massive fraud organization that also involved false addresses–not identical, but…familiar). Apparently he managed this taxi garage with his–wait for it–Ukrainian business partner, Simon Barber. Now, this isn’t entirely shocking, knowing that he married into a Ukrainian family (we’ll set aside his own family’s ownership of a local club frequented by Russian mobsters, for the moment). But it might feel relevant in the context of his Ukrainian father-in-law’s 1993 conviction of money laundering through a taxi fleet. [record scratch]
And remember that part about professional rings partnering with medical providers? Well, in 2005, a clinic called Life Quality Medical, P.C. was investigated for racking up massive bills for unnecessary treatment (hmm), leading to an insurance fraud conviction for its lead doctor, Ukrainian Zhanna Kanevsky, who was working in service of a larger Ukrainian fraud ring. The clinic must have suspected something like this might come about someday; at least that would explain their long-standing rule of referring all lawsuits to one Mr. Michael Cohen. Again, besides the international connection and shady business dealings overall, the key point is that the organized fraud operation chose, as its legal shield, Michael Cohen.
This is a pattern. And like a scene staged by his clients, it’s no accident. This isn’t Saul Goodman-style slip-and-fall hijinks. We’re talking about a multi-million dollar, long-term career of organized fraudulent activities….in my opinion, that is. Or, he’s the most unlucky, naive attorney in US and/or Ukrainian history. (Narrator Voice: “He’s not.”)