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The former European head of Och-Ziff Capital Management Group was sentenced to three months behind bars for his role in a bribery scandal involving more than $100 million that was paid to government officials across Africa.
Michael L. Cohen, an American living in London who was once a rising star at Och-Ziff, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn, New York, six months after the former manager admitted to lying to federal investigators. Prosecutors dropped more serious charges.
Garaufis rejected Cohen’s request to serve a period of home confinement instead of jail, saying it would be too difficult to supervise Cohen while he’s “sitting in his mansion in London.” The judge said he’d pledged to administer justice equally “to the poor and the rich.”
Cohen’s behavior “demonstrates a serious lack of moral certitude that needs to be dealt with here,” Garaufis said before handing down the sentence. “You don’t get a special deal because you’ve been so successful.”
Cohen, 48, was the only employee charged in the federal bribery probe. Och-Ziff agreed in 2016 to pay $400 million in fines and co-founder Dan Och paid a $2 million penalty. Cohen pleaded guilty in May.
“I’m very sorry for what I did,” Cohen, 48, said in court. He said he regretted his actions in particular because they hurt his family. His lawyer said Cohen is in the midst of a divorce.
Gerald Moody, a lawyer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, told Garaufis that Cohen had misled investigators despite having “every privilege and advantage in the world.”
Cohen admitted to lying to prosecutors investigating Och-Ziff’s payments, after the government dropped nine other charges including wire fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors said he faced 10 to 16 months behind bars under sentencing guidelines.
Cohen had argued that he shouldn’t receive any time behind bars because of his minor role in the scheme, telling Garaufis in a sentencing memorandum that the public shame was punishment enough.
Cohen was originally accused of enriching himself at the expense of a large charity that was a client. The U.S. said he brokered the sale of shares in an African mining company owned by a business associate who’d owed him money for a yacht. Cohen was originally charged with failing to disclose that the sellers of the mining shares owed him millions of dollars, according to the government.
Cohen admitted that he lied to government agents in 2013 about backdating a letter to hide his interest in the proposed investment in the African mining company. Two days after his 2013 interview, Cohen corrected his misstatement and later personally reimbursed the charity $8.73 million on Och-Ziff’s behalf, his lawyers said.
Cohen must surrender to begin his sentence on Feb. 5. The judge said he’d recommend Cohen be allowed to serve his sentence at a federal facility in New Hampshire so he can be closer to his parents.
The case is U.S. v. Michael L. Cohen, 17-cr-0544, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
(Updates with details of Cohen’s role in the scheme.)
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