On Avenue D, Lawyer Says He Faces Tax Charges Because He Defended Terrorism Suspects

photo(234)Melvin Felix Stanley Cohen at his home office.

Radical lawyer Stanley Cohen denies charges brought by federal prosecutors last week that he failed to file income tax returns, among other allegations. “But I did shoot steroids when I pitched for the Yankees,” he said sarcastically, speaking to The Local from his home office across from the Jacob Riis Houses on Avenue D. The 61-year-old lawyer said he believed an indictment brought against him Thursday stemmed from his representation of Middle Eastern clients charged with terrorism. “If you don’t believe that,” he said, “I’m going to try and sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.”

Mr. Cohen, who once said he would represent Osama bin Laden if asked, said his office had spent the past five years fighting the allegations with prosecutors in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, where the indictment was handed down by a federal grand jury. “They’re not going to win,” he said.

The charges against him, he said, were precipitated by a complaint he said his office filed a month ago that asked the Inspector General’s office in Washington, D.C. to investigate prosecutors for what he described as “pervasive government misconduct,” including what he said were illegal seizures of cash, in their handling of the case against him. “There is no doubt in my mind that once I filed a formal complaint, that foreclosed any appropriate reasonable discussion,” he said. “When you file a complaint against a U.S. attorney, you’re done.”

After learning of the case from The Local, Ron Kuby, another high-profile attorney who has represented terrorism suspects, said federal prosecutors were engaging in selective enforcement. “Stanley is a radical lawyer who has been a thorn in the side of government for decades, particularly in the Northern District of New York where he has represented [clients] in the St. Regis Mohawk rebellion both in New York and in Canada. For that he gets indicted on something that other people would just get a bill for,” he said. Members of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe were accused of smuggling millions of dollars worth of untaxed cigarettes and liquor across the border.

Mr. Kuby called the case “an outrageous abuse of government power” but also said that Mr. Cohen should have been more careful and remembered he was a target.

Mr. Cohen, meanwhile, said he was at a disadvantage because his law firm was a one-man operation. “I wouldn’t know the tax code if it fell over me,” he said, using an unprintable word.

Last week, U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian issued a press release announcing an indictment against Mr. Cohen alleging that he failed to file individual and corporate income tax returns from 2005 to 2010, failed to report a total of $35,000 in cash that he received from two clients, made cash deposits in small amounts in order to avoid having to report payments exceeding $10,000, and failed to maintain proper records. According to the press release, one violation carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000; another could lead to five years in jail and the same fine.

Mr. Cohen is an East Village fixture and a prominent figure among left-wing lawyers in New York City. His clients have ranged from East Village squatters to Islamic militants such as Mohamed Alessa, an Elmwood Park, N.J. resident who last year pleaded guilty to conspiring to join an al Qaeda-affiliated group in Somalia intent on waging Jihad against non-Muslims. He also represented disbarred radical attorney Lynne Stewart, now serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison for materially aiding terrorism in Egypt while representing Shiek Omar Abdel Rahman, a blind Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence in a prison hospital for conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks.