ROMANCING THE WITNESSES
I told you about my wife, the perfect legal secretary. We’ve been married since August 2, 1974, when we tied the knot in front of a Tempe, Arizona justice of the peace with Tara wearing leather lederhosen, and me in a funky t-shirt. We had three kids, Josh, Maria and Ana. Daddy was already in law school by the time Ana got to talking, so she has grown up in an environment where law students and lawyers come tramping in and out of the house, carrying their bottles of beer and stacks of paper. Our kids remember hilarious family moments in our bright blue Santa Monica kitchen, when hopped-up poet-lawyers brandished knives, tequila bottles, and hastily-crafted rhymes to the sounds of punk rock. All three kids logged scores of weekend hours in Los Angeles high-rise law offices, pretending to be receptionists, copy assistants, and secretaries, while consuming the abundance of traditional West-L.A. takeout food -- awesome lox, bagel and cream cheese brunches, trays of cold sandwiches, and gourmet pizza loaded with everything but anchovies. So spending weekends with daddy cranking out legal paper wasn’t really so bad. It gave them an idea of what work is like in the big wide world.
Of the three, Ana was the only teacher’s pet. Only due to her do I know how nice it is to have a really great parent-teacher conference in grade school. I certainly had none in my own childhood, and the first two followed my lead, much to Tara’s chagrin. Her mom was an elementary school principal. The difference between the two older kids and Ana, at least with respect to school deportment, was so notable that when Ana finally entered Ashland High in Oregon, the teachers asked her, disbelieving, whether she was really related to Maria and Josh. These two young pioneers had cut a swath through the school that has never been forgotten. Josh brought the baggy pants craze to Ashland, resulting in the expenditure of innumerable unnecessary yards of cloth, the sort of waste that drives Oregonians crazy. Maria takes her Mexican heritage so seriously that when one of her schoolmates, a proto-Nazi whose father was the head of the local college’s criminology department, started talking trash about Mexicans and “poor people,” she felled him with a clean right cross, while, interestingly, her teacher made no move to stop her. She was called to the principal’s office and issued a criminal citation by a police officer that was summoned to the scene. The slight flush of pride that filled her face when she told me the story abruptly turned to pallor when I reprimanded her in the sternest tones, telling her I was deeply disappointed. She had acted like a Nazi herself, I told her, attacking a person physically for mere words. She got the point, and ultimately delivered an apology to the young man. Maria performed the terms of her juvenile probation bravely, and the incident became a part of local legend, cementing her position in the community as a notorious bad girl.
So how was Ana different? Oh, how about saintly? Until the age of 19, which you’ll note is after the matters addressed in this book, her mouth could safely have been used as a butter storage device. She got herself into Stanford as a President’s Scholar, the only school she bothered to apply to, by wowing them with her unique resume. What’s on that resume? Well, no high school grades, that’s for sure, because this kid is a middle school dropout. She went to high school for a couple of months, until she decided her siblings were right, but decided to express it a little differently, leaving under her own power. She had done the same in middle school when she concluded her teachers were trivializing the important business of learning. She was particularly shocked when she was criticized for doing more than a project required.
After we moved up to Oregon in 1993 from L.A., Ana hadn’t been in middle school more than three weeks before she came up with a great alternative to public education. She asked if she could go on a six-week meditation retreat at the Tibetan-Buddhist temple just up the road from our house. The retreat started every day at 7:00 a.m. and ended at 9:00 p.m. She would be the only middle schooler on the retreat, since everyone else was an adult and most probably over 30, except for the instructors- some handsome young Tibetan boys who had mastered the art of “psychic heat.” I’m really not supposed to tell much more because this is esoteric knowledge that is cloaked behind a veil of secrecy. I never even got to see the little tiny skimpy mini-skirt type uniforms people wear when they train in generating the psychic heat. These skimpy uniforms are intended to make you cold, which isn’t difficult when the retreat takes place in an unheated barn-like structure in the dead of winter in the Siskiyou mountains of southern Oregon.
Well, I always thought Ana had been studying too hard, and this seemed like just the sort of break she needed. In all seriousness, I told her that she could go to the retreat, and that I would wake her up every morning in time to get there, but she had to promise that when she got enlightened, she would enlighten me first, before all the other beings whom she would thereafter bless with Buddha wisdom. She took the deal, and I performed my part getting her there on time every day. She turned out to be the star performer at the event, inspiring the rest with feats of flexibility and endurance in performing difficult exercises that left others in tears. When the six weeks had ended, Ana had grown four inches, and was barely beginning to work up a sweat on this meditation stuff. She had a radiant smile, a firm step, and a long black whip-like braid that reached the middle of her thighs. This kid was on.
After the retreat was over, her return to school was brief. Somehow those middle school teachers didn’t impress her when they came up with assignments such as writing a paper on five things you hope to do, giving as an example “to grow beautiful nails.” So it wasn’t long before she was back at home again, keeping an expanded meditation schedule and plenty of hours with the computer studying Princeton Review high school materials on CD Rom. I bought her a 12-hour series of videotapes on how to become a superstar student, and she absorbed their contents avidly. Tara and I could help her with some of the work, but after Algebra, we weren’t much help with the computer-generated math problems.
People projected a nun-like character on Ana, and she didn’t consider it a compliment years later when everyone thought it so natural that she be working in a library. Still, her bookish ways were notable, and extended to the Tibetan language. She studied with a monk at the temple, and also with Alan Wallace, the well known author and speaker on the subject of Tibetan Buddhism.
From Thanksgiving 1999 until March 2000, Ana studied at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal. Tara had a good time watching over her and reprising her role of twenty years earlier, as an international hippie with the considerable advantage of a functioning debit card. The girls originally planned to stay around six months, which got shortened to three when they decided they wanted better food, air and healthcare than is available in Kathmandu.
From my end, the hectic work schedule was wearing me out, and working so close to Gary was turning me into a wraith. I needed help with the paperwork. The filing was massive, and I couldn’t blame the other side either. I was generating the paper blizzard. Keeping the books for litigation costs was a headache. Hiring temps for a couple of hours at a time wasn’t cutting it. I needed my woman back. Tara and Ana didn’t need much prompting, and on March 1, 2000, they returned in brightly-colored Mongolian garb, bringing paintings, statues, and best of all, themselves.
Tara soon had the books under control, accounts reconciled, and the bills sent out. She next turned her hand to the filing, and corralled the paper blizzard in colored binders on a shelf with document lists, exhibit tabs, etcetera, exactly like they do in the big L.A. firms, because that’s where Tara had worked. She has a rigorous code of professional discipline that sums up like this: “Your work will be done perfectly, whether you like it or not.” She regards my methods of organization as the flailings of an amateur. She brought order to the case.
Ana started off as a cabin girl on our little litigation frigate, and was quickly promoted to handle the subpoena gun. The gun analogy is apt because the whole goal of subpoena serving is simply to hand the witness the subpoena. You only have to do it once. It’s like chucking a harpoon into a whale. After the hook is set, they gotta come. Witnesses trying to avoid being served have engaged in every conceivable evasive maneuver. If you want to learn the meaning of avoidance, be a process server.
Filling out a subpoena is a detail job. In addition to the case name and number, you have to state the name and address of the witness, describe the documents you want them to produce, and state a time and place for production. To find current addresses, Ana used online searches and private investigators. Gary composed a most extensive list of documents, the infamous “Attachment A.” For the place of production, usually lawyers designate the office of a court reporter, but that’s expensive. I decided Kinko’s was a good enough place for the witnesses to produce documents. It was easy, I told Ana, to find a Kinko’s within a few miles of virtually any witness, using the Kinko’s website store-locator. All of this information was integrated into the subpoena by a mind that had no prior experience with banks, private investigators, paralegals or clerks. The subpoenas appeared in her hands, and I signed them. Then she fired them off.
It was a classic example of the old saw in action: “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” In the Sex.Com litigation, no one knew Ana was a newly-minted “subpoena clerk.” She soon was expert at generating a subpoena to anyone, for anything, and knew the process servers by first name. Her faxes flew fast and far, and were discussed with all seriousness. Soon she was skilled at getting those witnesses tagged. Then came the job of reeling them in.
Tight follow-up on every subpoena we served was an absolute necessity. A shamefully large number of people will simply blow off a subpoena. Ana would call each witness, and with her delicate voice, follow up earnestly and simply. Her first big success was Washington Mutual in San Diego, where she befriended the document paralegal to such an extent that the young lady started calling her for legal advice.
Washington Mutual was where Cohen got his home loan. When you’ve got a lot of money, you’ve got to do something with it, and Stephen Michael Cohen was no exception. With some of his Sex.Com profits, he bought a house in San Diego County, in a development called Rancho Santa Fe. When you apply for a home loan, you put your best foot forward in terms of assets, income, and corporate ownership, etcetera. In Cohen’s case, this meant providing a list of bank and securities accounts, and declaring his ownership of “Omnitec, dba SEX.COM,” a company whose bank accounts were also revealed in the loan file. The loan file showed Cohen bought the house for $3.1 Million. He paid $500,000 down, and borrowed the rest from WaMu on the strength of his other assets -- bank and securities accounts held in his own name, and the names of Omnitec, Sand Man International, Ocean Fund International, and other companies. Cohen had come far since he walked out of prison in 1995.
As soon as Ana got fresh records, she copied them for me and faxed and emailed them to Gary. Usually, they’d come faxed back a few hours later, marked with numerous jabbing arrows pointing to circled account numbers, directing us to “subpoena this!” “Follow the money,” Gary would chant, echoing Deep Throat. Armed with Gary’s prime directive -- if it’s relevant, subpoena it, cost be damned -- we knocked on door after door, tracking down Cohen’s financial trail.
The Washington Mutual loan file was like a map directing us to the important places to subpoena. It told us what doors to knock on, and generally indicated the amount of funds likely to be found in each of the accounts. There were accounts at Citibank, Charles Schwab, and Royal Alliance. The biggest ones at the San Diego Wells Fargo Bank, where Omnitec dba Sex.Com had accounts. Within days of receiving the Washington Mutual records, Ana was faxing new subpoenas to a half dozen private investigators to serve on Cohen’s other banks.
Ana could get a lot of records on her own, but there were a lot of hard cases out there in the witness world, and those people got passed on to Sue Whatley, an amply appointed tall, blonde, Oregon lawyer with a husky voice made more so by continued application of Salem menthol tobacco smoke. Sue’s demeanor is languid in the extreme. Her eyes often do not open more than half way, preferring to look downward. She has a degree in music, can entertain at the piano all night, and a gentle laugh tinged with amused cynical delight. She was the Mata Hari of the subpoena team.
Sue’s gift was inveigling her way into the minds and hearts of the witnesses. Talking with recalcitrants, smoothing the way with personal interchanges, and easy, playful emails. Her communications are peppered with personality. She sought to accomplish by wile and seduction what could not be accomplished straightforwardly, and often succeeded. Watching her working the witnesses was like watching someone reeling in a big deep-sea fish. You couldn’t always tell which way it was going to go, watching the correspondence and hearing the updates, but then often enough she’d get the documents. One of her big scores was Steve Ramusevic, the accountant for Sporting Houses who gave us copies of the original stock certificates, board of directors information, tax returns, and correspondence concerning the attempted purchase of a Nevada brothel as phase one of the Camp Wanaleiya project. Sue smoothed communications with banks, who had their own lawyers and wanted to talk to a lawyer. What she couldn’t cajole, seduce or wheedle out of the witnesses, it fell to me to obtain.
I was the last link in the chain. By the time a witness was dealing with me, romance had clearly failed, and there was only one way left to go -- to Kinko’s, where I would be happy to have the documents copied at my expense, or to court, where one would be beaten briskly about the head and shoulders with an expensive club.
And little by little, all through the summer and into the Fall of year 2000, the documents began to pour in from state agencies, banks, accountants, courts, telecommunications providers, securities brokerages and law offices, an insane flow of records that began to fill binders, which began to fill shelves. The meaning-to-volume ratio of these documents was not necessarily very high. There might be only two or three pages of useful information out of several hundred, if you were just looking at what you could prove with them in the case. The people in my office were becoming Cohen connoisseurs, beginning to appreciate the nuances and twists of his various deceptions. Each successful subpoena foray expanded an ever-widening circle of inquiry that was creating a three dimensional view of Steve Cohen’s long-time pursuit of deceptive business activity, in various states, under various business names. This was the gift we received from the witnesses for all of our labor in romancing them. We got to see the full picture of Stephen Michael Cohen, a picture more clear and detailed than anyone had ever seen.
The biggest danger from studying Cohen so intensely was that you might lose heart in your ability to defeat him. After all, studying the record, you could see he had come out on top again and again. If you thought too long about it, you might hypnotize yourself into defeat, so I made a rule for everyone in our office, that no one could say anything admiring about Cohen. No one should ever speak of his schemes with wonder or amazement, but we should always remind ourselves that he was a thief, a liar, and a conman, and that we would defeat him. It was a joyless inoculation, but a necessary one. One must not fall prey to the enemy’s glamour, although one is free to learn from it.