The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

31 May 2009

Former Air America Radio Executive / Network Co-Founder Sentenced


Montvel-Cohen Must Cough Up Ca$h To Avoid Jail

For Air America Radio,
Evan Montvel-Cohen is the story that just won't go away. As co-founder of the liberal talk radio network, his tenure was marked by the Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club Scandal, where $875,000 in taxpayer funds were diverted from the Bronx-based children's charity in order to pay the salaries of Al Franken and others inside the fledgling firm.

Though there's no indication Franken took part in the scheme, he clearly benefitted from it, but expressed no remorse, much less any desire to repay the money.

Instead, the possible US Senator from Minnesota laughingly blamed it on a Republican conspiracy, all because Montvel-Cohen had briefly worked for Guam's GOP governor (despite being an outspoken leftist).

For his part
, Montvel-Cohen never could quite seem to stay out of trouble. Long after departing the "progressive" radio network, he was still making headlines, despite somehow escaping prosecution in the Gloria Wise Scandal, partly through a disappearing act.

In May, 2008, Evan's luck ran out, thanks to an arrest on unrelated charges including money laundering, theft and forgery. Extradited from Guam, he was taken to Hawaii to face the allegations.

From the New York Post in 2008:

It was Montvel-Cohen who, as development director for Gloria Wise, convinced other club officials in 2003 and 2004 to give $875,000 of taxpayer money to the radio network where he was a top executive and co-founder.

He also received loans from the club of more than $45,000 that were never repaid.

Montvel-Cohen, 43, was never charged here, but two other directors at Gloria Wise pleaded guilty to misappropriating $1.2 million, some of which was used for personal expenses for club officials, including cars and home renovations.

The $875,000 was repaid by Air America only after DOI launched a wide-ranging probe into the transfer of city and state funds meant to help children and the elderly in the northeast Bronx.

But DOI was never able to speak with Montvel-Cohen, who invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, Hearn said.

"As DOI's 2006 report into fraud at the Gloria Wise Boys & Girls Club showed, he was indeed someone of interest to us because of his pivotal role in the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars of Gloria Wise funds to a start-up commercial radio station," she said.

DOI has no immediate plans to pursue Montvel-Cohen.

Jim Fulton, a spokesman for the Honolulu city prosecutor, said Montvel-Cohen ripped off the landscaping company by using the firm's credit cards to pay for $30,000 of hotel and travel expenses.

He's also charged with stealing another $30,000 - money he claimed he used to pay the company's state excise taxes, but pocketed instead.

Cohen, who returned to his native Guam after bolting from Hawaii, was returning from the Philippines when the outstanding warrant was discovered.

Fulton said Montvel-Cohen has returned to the broadcast business, working for Sorensen Media Group, owned by his pal Rex Sorensen, one of the original Air America founders.

Sorensen and Montvel-Cohen operate several TV and radio outlets in the Pacific Islands.

Now, we've learned that Montvel-Cohen has chosen to plead no contest to the charges in exchange for a lighter sentence, according to the Honolulu Advertiser:

The money must be paid before Montvel-Cohen is sentenced July 28 by Circuit Judge Randal Lee. If the money isn't repaid by sentencing, Van Marter said his office can ask for a jail sentence of up to 18 months.

Montvel-Cohen may ask Lee for a deferred acceptance of the no contest plea, a legal mechanism that would result in no criminal record if he stays trouble-free for a specified period of court supervision.

"It's a reasonable resolution to the case," said defense lawyer Todd Eddins.

Montvel-Cohen had been accused of stealing more than $62,000 from a Waimanalo landscaping firm, Ultimate Innovations, where he worked as a business manager in 2005.

Air America, which featured comedian and now-politician Al Franken as its best-known host, was launched in 2004, with financing that included more than $800,000 from a nonprofit boys and girls club in New York where Montvel-Cohen was employed as development director.

That investment, as well as loans that Montvel-Cohen received from the club, were the subject of a criminal investigation by New York City officials, but he was never charged with an offense.

At home in Guam, KAUM-TV warns that Montvel-Cohen has a short window of opportunity to avoid jail time and that his plea is likely designed to avoid losing a potential civil suit:

"As part of the agreement, it's a two-pronged agreement: one, if the money is if the full restitution is not paid by July 28 then we will go in and ask for jail; if it is, then probation it is, he will be under court supervision on probation for five years," explained Fulton.

Should Montvel-Cohen fail to pay the restitution, prosecutors will go in and ask the judge for up to 18 months in jail.

What's interesting is that if Montvel-Cohen is able to come up with $30,000 in two months, one might question why he hasn't been able to pay on a loan with Citizens Security Bank that GEDA Guaranteed for $300,000. As KUAM News reported previously, Montvel-Cohen, who ran a business with Governor Felix Camacho's former deputy chief of staff John Dela Rosa, defaulted on the loan guaranty. According to GEDA administrator Tony Blaz, the loan is currently in collections. The two now run a media company called Marianas Media.

As for the victim in Hawaii, Fulton says he wants to ensure that Montvel-Cohen's felony will be on his record. "He wants to be certain that this is entered as a conviction," Fulton confirmed.

With no jail time resulting from this mess nor even an attempt at prosecution in the Gloria Wise / Air America scandal, Montvel-Cohen shares something in common with Franken, his onetime employee: a pattern of being rewarded for bad behavior.

One key difference: having manipulated others all the way into the US Senate, Stuart Smalley is the undisputed master of this dubious craft. As his understudy, Evan could only dream of this kind of success.

Air America / Cohen scandal graphic: NY Post

Classic AAR Scandal Image: Pete at IHillary

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