NEW YORK – In the two weeks since federal agents seized the files of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and fixer, a question has hovered: Will Cohen cooperate with investigators?
His decision could depend in part on whether he can readily shoulder the enormous legal fees required to fight a federal probe of this magnitude.
At first blush, Cohen looks rich. He drives a Rolls-Royce, sports a $50,000 watch and owns a fair amount of Manhattan real estate.
But just as his loyalty to Trump is coming under scrutiny, a more tenuous financial picture is emerging. A taxi business he and his wife built is deeply in debt and losing money daily, his commercial real estate is throwing off only modest income, and his legal and consulting work is on hold.
Cohen declined to comment.
The owners of 32 New York City taxi licenses — known as medallions — he and his wife, Laura, took out at least 16 loans based on their once-soaring value, liens show. With the rise of Uber and Lyft, the price of a medallion has fallen from more than $1 million to around $163,000 in the past four years. Income from the taxi business has plummeted, and millions of dollars of the Cohens’ loans went underwater.
Unpaid taxes and fines have piled up at the Cohen taxi companies, triggering a suspension of about half of the medallions, city records show.
Whatever monthly income the cabs once produced almost certainly fell well short of the debt payments owed to Sterling National Bank, their Montebello, N.Y.-based lender. Sterling has foreclosed on operators in similar situations and sued them but appears to be taking a less-confrontational approach with the Cohens. On Tuesday, the bank agreed to new loans for their companies and to Cohen personally, public filings show. Sterling declined to comment.
The taxi business isn’t the only part of Cohen’s empire that’s suffering. The law firm Squire Patton Boggs said it ended its “strategic alliance” with Cohen after law enforcement raided his offices, and the rest of his legal work could decline for the same reason.
Cohen has said in court that he had only three legal clients during the past year, including Trump and Fox talk-show host Sean Hannity. He gave seven others “strategic advice and business consulting.”
Last month, Cohen said he borrowed from his home-equity credit line to make a $130,000 payment in October 2016 to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film star who says she had sex with Trump.
Cohen is under investigation for bank fraud and violating campaign-finance law. But his decade at Trump’s side as his lawyer and enforcer could yield information he might trade to investigators looking into the Trump campaign and Russia’s interference in the U.S. election. Still, if he chooses to defend himself, Cohen does have assets; he has been a savvy property investor.
Richard Guarino, a partner at Friedman-Roth Realty, has worked with Cohen on a handful of deals. As a real estate investor, Cohen is “cautious, methodical, smart and, I think, conservative,” Guarino said.