A federal judge in New York sentenced Michael Cohen to three years in prison on Dec. 12, for tax evasion, bank fraud, campaign-finance violations, and lying to Congress.
Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, was indicted as a result of the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller and was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Cohen’s crimes are not related to allegations of collusion with Russia, the core theme of Mueller’s probe.
The 36-month sentence by U.S. District Judge William Pauley is the harshest imposed to date in cases related to the special counsel. Pauley also ordered Cohen to pay two $50,000 fines and $1.4 million in restitution, and forfeit $500,000 in assets. Cohen is to surrender to authorities on March 6.
“Each crime involves deception motivated by personal greed and ambition,” the judge said. “As a lawyer, Mr. Cohen should have known better.”
In a sentencing filing ahead of the hearing, Cohen’s attorneys asked the judge for no prison time, arguing that he had admitted to his crimes and cooperated with investigators.
“No bank has ever lost money dealing with Michael Cohen,” his attorney said twice, adding that Cohen is “a very good man.”
But prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York told the court in a memo that Cohen’s efforts fell “well short” of cooperation, asking that the attorney be sentenced to approximately four years in prison. In court on Dec. 12, the prosecutor said Cohen showed a “pattern of deception, brazenness and greed that manifested in” his professional life.
Mueller’s sentencing recommendation was more generous, saying Cohen had provided valuable information about contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia. He recommended any sentence for lying to Congress be served concurrently with Cohen’s sentence on the New York-based charges. The judge concurred with Mueller, ordering that the Cohen serve the two months for lying to Congress concurrently with his term.
Cohen admitted to willfully evading taxes by failing to report more than $4 million in income between 2012 and 2016. The attorney also admitted to lying to a bank about his net worth and monthly expenses in order to obtain a loan, concealing a $20 million debt to another bank.
Cohen also pleaded guilty to campaign-finance charges that are likely not crimes, according to former Federal Elections Commission chair Bradley Smith. The charges involve non-disclosure-agreement payments Cohen arranged for women claiming to have had affairs with Trump more than a decade ago. According to Smith, the payments can’t be counted as campaign contributions. Trump denies having the affairs.
In an interview with Reuters on Dec. 11, Trump denied the payments were campaign contributions. “If it were, it’s only civil, and even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did,” he said.
In a separate guilty plea, Cohen admitted to lying to Congress about a publicized and ultimately abandoned Trump Organization plan for a real estate development in Moscow. Cohen said he misled the House and Senate committees on intelligence about when the project was terminated, whether he briefed Trump on the matter, and the extent of his communications with the Russian government. One of Cohen’s contacts on the matter was Felix Sater, a known FBI informant.
Sentencing consultant Justin Paperny said Pauley has a reputation for being tough on white-collar defendants and that Cohen probably made a mistake asking for no jail time when he failed to fully cooperate.
Reporters and members of the public lined up to get into the courtroom, and some were turned away. The courtroom was so packed that court officers initially tried to limit the number of people from Mueller’s team, prompting one to quip, “We are kind of important.”
On Dec. 3, Trump accused Cohen of lying to investigators in order to get a lenient sentence. The president said that Cohen should serve a full sentence for his crimes.
Cohen, 52, walked into court with his wife, son, and daughter amid a crowd of photographers and reporters. His 23-year-old daughter, Samantha, and 19-year-old son, Jake, both wept silently in the courtroom, the son wiping his eyes with his jacket sleeve. After being sentenced, Cohen walked over to his daughter and kissed her head.
Cohen’s father, Maurice Cohen, who showed little emotion during the hearing, later told reporters: “My heart is ripped.”
Reuters contributed to this report.