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Baltimore County businessman claims 'no victims' in federal insurance fraud case

Jeffrey B. Cohen is representing himself at trial, which began Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Jeffrey B. Cohen is representing himself at trial, which began Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

A Reisterstown nightclub insurer accused of cooking his company's books to defraud regulators and clients and support his lavish lifestyle suggested in federal court Monday that the entire 31-count case against him is a waste of time because there are "no victims" of his actions.

"Nobody lost any money," said Jeffrey B. Cohen, 39, during his 36-minute opening remarks in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. He is representing himself at trial.

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While admitting to fabricating assets and having "misrepresented financials" for his Sparks-based Indemnity Insurance Corp., Cohen vehemently denied related allegations that he intended to do "physical harm" to two Delaware officials who investigated his company.

"The government should be ashamed of themselves for alleging I was going to physically harm people," said Cohen, calling the accusations "disgusting" and "offensive."

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Cohen told jurors he never was given the chance to explain the items prosecutors linked to the alleged plot, even though there are "logical explanations" for each.

The high-powered rifle he'd purchased, for instance, was for a planned African hunting trip, he said. The shotgun was for a check-cashing store he'd purchased in Baltimore. The handguns were for his many homes around the country, and the "disguises" he'd purchased were for a "masquerade ball" he was planning, he said.

Cohen's remarks came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold Gruber spent 51 minutes laying out the government's case against him, alleging the former bouncer-turned-businessman collected millions of dollars in premiums from the bars, nightclubs and event planners he insured — hitting $25 million in revenue in the first half of 2013 — without providing the risk protection he promised.

"The cover they thought they paid for was not what they got," Gruber said.

Indemnity's collapse left major judgments unpaid and former clients in difficult circumstances across the country, an investigation by The Baltimore Sun found.

Gruber said Cohen used fake wire transfers, financial statements, bank statements, screenshots of bank account information and letters of credit to trick a rating agency, regulators and banks and make it appear that his company had more money than it did. Gruber said Cohen also created a "web of companies," used aliases and stole the identities of real people to facilitate the scheme.

On multiple occasions, Cohen fabricated documentation of cash infusions of millions of dollars into the company that never actually occurred, Gruber said. Cohen also secured web addresses and made fake email accounts to pose as bank officials and trick a rating agency, Gruber said.

After outlining Cohen's alleged financial misdeeds, Gruber told the 16 jurors that was "unfortunately" not the end of the case and clicked a button on a handheld remote, bringing a single slide onto screens in front of them that read, "Cohen takes a very dark path …"

Gruber then outlined the allegations that Cohen, angry about Delaware officials seizing his company in 2013 and beginning to liquidate it, had planned to attack Delaware Judge J. Travis Laster and Delaware Lt. Gov. Matthew Denn, the state's former insurance commissioner.

Gruber said Cohen's "dark path" included purchasing the firearms and "incendiary ammunition," recording thoughts about the plot on a recording device and in notebooks, and printing out directions to Laster and Denn's homes.

Cohen is charged with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, money laundering, making false statements to insurance regulators, and obstruction of justice in relation to the alleged plot to harm the officials.

Cohen told the jurors that some of the financial missteps alleged by prosecutors "don't even matter any more they were so long ago." He also said his company did well by its clients, who were not hurt by his actions.

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"We had plenty of cash to pay claims," he said. "We paid tens of thousands of claims to the tune of tens of millions of dollars."

As for the allegations of plotting to harm Laster and Denn, Cohen went beyond just explaining the guns.

He'd printed directions to Laster's home because he had named Laster in a separate lawsuit and had to serve him with papers, he said. He needed directions to Denn's house so he could collect material for a "political attack ad" against Denn that he planned on creating.

The "bombmaking materials" prosecutors claimed he had were for a project he was working on to build "a hydrogenerator," and for use in a workshop he maintained to build guitars, Cohen said. The writings about violence were from "creative writing journals," and similar comments on a voice recorder were ideas for a movie script and taken out of context, he said.

"They edited it so it sounds like I want to harm people," he said, telling jurors that prosecutors have focused on 2 minutes and 39 seconds of a 49-minute tape that he would play for them in full.

Before concluding, Cohen told jurors not to trust the government's case and said they shouldn't "get distracted" by all the presented evidence, which he said should be questioned.

"Just because the government says it's true doesn't make it so," he told the jurors. "They think they can do anything they please because nobody stops them."

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