Lawyer Indicted on 69 Counts in Alleged Adoption Scheme

Date: 2009-10-29
Source: Law.com

Lawyer Indicted on 69 Counts in Alleged Adoption Scheme
By Vesselin Mitev All Articles
New York Law Journal
October 29, 2009

A Roslyn, N.Y., lawyer who claims that his experience as an adopted child inspired him to help would-be parents has been indicted in Nassau County, N.Y., on charges that he stole more than $300,000 from couples looking to adopt by promising them children who "did not exist." Kevin Cohen, 41, was indicted Monday on 69 counts, including one of second-degree grand larceny, 11 of third-degree grand larceny, and 10 of third-degree forgery.

He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the top count.

According to the indictment, which was unsealed Wednesday, Cohen had lied about "prospective adoptions which the defendant knew did not exist" and showed clients false documents, including fake sonograms.

From May 2007 until his arrest last month, Cohen had held himself out as "a legal expert" and was "able to obtain large sums of money for couples to arrange adoptions," Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement Wednesday.

Authorities have described the scam as an "adoption Ponzi scheme" because Cohen may have used funds from new clients to partially refund the fee of a client who had not obtained a baby.

Thirteen families, some from New York and others from Georgia, Texas and Ohio, gave money -- up to $65,000 in one case -- believing it would be held in escrow to pay for medical costs and expenses of the birth mothers, which in reality did not exist, Rice said.

Cohen's attorney, Matin Emouna, said in an interview that his client denies the charges. He added that Cohen was an adopted child himself, and had successfully placed five or six children with families through the nonprofit Adoption Annex he founded in 2004.

In an interview posted on www.iparentingadoption.com, Cohen is quoted as saying, "There are huge amounts of injustice in the adoption arena. Adoptive parents are victims waiting to happen because they often get anxious. Pursuing adoption is a huge expenditure of money and emotion, and people don't want to bite the hand that will feed them. I want to better educate people as to what the playing field really is."

Cohen said he was dedicating the Adoption Annex to the memory of his foster parents.

In an Oct. 8, 2004, article, The Roslyn News quoted Cohen as calling adoption "an intensely emotional and personal experience" and touting the annex as a "safe haven ... providing a place where those touched by adoption can come together to learn, share and voice their opinions in a comfortable, supportive environment."

The service, first located in Roslyn and then in Garden City, N.Y., offered seminars, counseling and information to parents and children, but had to close due to financial trouble, Emouna said.

The lawyer said that the families with whom Cohen had placed children were satisfied with the process.

"One of the families called me and asked, 'Is there anything we can do?' And I said, 'It would be premature at this point, we don't need character witnesses yet,'" said Emouna, of Mineola, N.Y.

Emouna said he had yet to see some of the evidence against his client, and maintained that "a lot of the issues are civil in nature." He declined to get into specifics, citing the ongoing investigation of Cohen, but said that "the fact that he was retained as an attorney" by some of the families cast doubt on allegations that the payments were illegal.

Cohen is being held on $500,000 bail at a local hospital's prison ward, where he is receiving medication for an unspecified condition. His next court appearance is set for Nov. 6.

'EVIL, HEARTLESS ACT'

The 69-count indictment describes a bizarre series of actions Cohen allegedly took to perpetrate the fraud, including posing as a bank representative, posing as his own reference, and forging lab results of prenatal testing purportedly done at medical centers in Arizona and Nebraska.

One couple paid Cohen $65,000 after he said he had found two prospective out-of-state birth mothers looking to give up their children, Rice said.

"This is an evil, heartless act by a man who would say or do anything to steal money from good people," Rice said in a statement, vowing to aggressively prosecute the case "to ensure that Kevin Cohen never has the chance to destroy another family's dreams."

Cohen is a graduate of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law who was admitted to the bar in 1996.

Assistant District Attorneys Andrew Garbarino and Karen Bennett are prosecuting the case, the result of an investigation that began in May 2008.

Rice has asked anyone who believes they may have been victimized by Cohen to call 516-680-8624.

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