You must have heard of celebrities who went broke after making poor financial decisions. Johnny Depp, for instance, did not mind spending $300,000 a month to maintain his 40-person staff. Or Dionne Warwick, who sold over 100 million albums, but her compulsive shopping habit had her down to her last $1,000. For Michael Cohen’s net worth to turn negative, he can blame it on his own poor choices. Now that he has served his sentence, he might bounce back on his feet again. Until then, take a look at his journey of grace to grass.
An Interest in Politics is Born
On August 25, 1966, Sondra, a nurse, and her husband, Maurice, an ear, nose, and throat surgeon, welcomed their son, Cohen. They raised Cohen in Lawrence, in the Five Towns of Long Island. He attended Hillel, a Jewish day school where his mother would often volunteer to fundraise. Cohen later attended Lawrence Woodmere Academy, but even before his bar mitzvah got his first taste of politics. According to Long Island Herald, the young boy was invited by a neighbor to campaign for John Lindsay, the then-New York Mayor, who was in Atlantic Beach for a John F. Kennedy Memorial dedication. Cohen then went to high school, where his admiration for President Donald Trump began after reading “The Art of The Deal” twice, from cover to cover. He then joined American University to study law. According to The New York Times, the attorney comes from a long line of doctors and lawyers. Therefore when his grandmother threatened to exclude him from her will if he did not study law, he took the threat seriously. While there, he tapped into his enterprising spirit by importing luxury cars. It must have been lucrative because he drove a Porsche while in college. Cohen tried running an ethanol business with his family and investing in a casino boat, but these two businesses did not succeed. He had invested $1.5 million in the casino boat venture, but it became the subject of a fraud investigation three months after its maiden voyage.
Becoming a Multi-Millionaire
In 1992, he began practicing as a personal injury lawyer for Melvyn Estrin, Manhattan. When he eventually set up his personal injury law practice, he saw another business opportunity when he shared office space with a taxi cab management company. According to The Guardian, he got into the taxi business when he married Laura Shusterman, the daughter of a Ukrainian taxi operator. The cab business flourished and acquired over 30 New York City taxi medallions worth millions of dollars; he also had 22 taxi medallions in Chicago. Unfortunately, the business came to a halt in 2012 when he parted ways with business partner Simon Garber. By 1999, Cohen was involved in shady dealings. He reportedly had ties with the Russian mob, and proof came in the form of a $350,000 check, paid to him by Vladimir Malakhov, a professional hockey player. The hockey player said he had been extorted by someone who worked for a Russian crime boss, Vyacheslav Ivankov, and the money was supposed to go to a friend, Vitaly Buslaev. Cohen denied knowing Buslaev and said the money ended up where it was meant to go. In 2001, he bought a $1 million condo at Trump World Tower and encouraged his family to invest in other Trump buildings. By 2007, they had accumulated investments worth $17.3 million in Trump properties, and Trump said that Cohen must be smart to invest in the buildings. He continued with his real estate investments and sold four apartment buildings in 2014 for $32 million in cash, making a profit of $21 million. By 2015, he was wealthy enough to afford a $58 million seven-story apartment building in the Upper East Side.
From Riches to Rags
Cohen did not know that the man he once said he would take a bullet for would be the one putting nails in Cohen’s coffin. At Trump's invitation, Cohen joined Trump Organization in 2006 and did not even think twice about leaving his job at the Phillips Nizer LLP law firm. Although the scope of his work for the Trump Organization was unclear, Cohen acquired the nicknames “Tom” from “The Godfather” films and Trump’s “Pit Bull.” The reference could be from his declaration that if someone did something wrong, he would grab them by the neck and not let go until he was finished. That blind loyalty led to him setting up a shell company to pay off Stormy Daniels after she claimed to have had an affair with Trump. After arranging more payments to silence all the women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, Cohen decided to use the shell company for his benefit. He accumulated millions of dollars from clients who wanted their concerns heard by then-President Trump. One bank flagged the transactions resulting in Cohen becoming the subject of bank fraud, campaign violations, and wire fraud investigations. In 2018, he was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison. Not even his legal fees amounting to $1.9 million could be reimbursed, despite him suing Trump Organization. A judge also ruled against reimbursement of $1.9 million related to Cohen’s criminal case. Before his arrest, he had sold his stake in an apartment building and made a $7 million profit. However, he had no shame crying broke in GoFundMe and convinced well-wishers to fundraise $166,000 by August 2018. His net worth dwindled to negative $1 million, but Cohen is a man who does not hold pity parties. Even in prison, he turned his lemons into lemonade by writing “Disloyal.” According to Fortune, it has sold over a million copies already. He is already working on another book, and his podcast, also launched during his sentence period, averages 300,000 downloads per week.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee