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Serial plaintiff claiming emphysema files new batch of lawsuits

November 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
In an exclusive Eyewitness News investigation, we first introduced you to James Farkus Cohan back in August. He had filed 176 lawsuits against local small-business owners, claiming to be disabled with end-stage emphysema. But we found him hiking up a steep mountain. Now, he's back.

Cohan dropped his pending lawsuits after our first story aired, but he has since filed more than a dozen new lawsuits - and he has also threatened to sue Eyewitness News.

It was just about noon, and Cohan was out for his daily hike on steep terrain, especially for someone who claimed in a March 2011 lawsuit to have end-stage emphysema, a condition that limits his ability to walk, work, speak and breathe.

Two hours after that hike, Eyewitness News caught up with Cohan in court -- on crutches.

Cohan has filed 15 new lawsuits over alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act since our first story aired. They're all in small-claims court, where he does not need a lawyer.

Among the small businesses being sued are two bicycle shops in Burbank, including one owned by a man who truly is disabled. Cohan is also suing Coif Salon in Studio City, where eyelash extensions and airbrush tanning are on the menu of services.

Cohan demanded $7,500 from Armon's Restaurant in Eagle Rock.

Cohan lost that round, but says it's not over yet.

Asked what's next, Cohan replied, "What's next is to sue people who are not in compliance. You don't have to be disabled to bring a suit against somebody."

That's not true, according to Pasadena attorney Jim Link, who has been tracking Cohan cases since 2007.

"In order to be able to collect under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, you must be disabled," said Link. "Since he's not disabled, he can't collect under the act."

Confronted about the crutches, Cohan admitted, "I can walk, yes. And sometimes I have trouble."

Carlos Mier owns Sun Valley Liquor. There's a tiny deli inside called Gracy's Mexican Deli, where Grace Espinoza runs the grill.

"I love my business, and I have been working very hard for it," said Espinoza.

Cohan is demanding $2,500 from Espinoza.

"We're going to fight, we're not going to give any penny to him," said Mier. "He deserves to stay in jail."

Cohan has been to jail at least twice. In 1998, he was caught in a sting by Italian police, who were investigating his business in trafficking human organs.

Eyewitness News asked Cohan about it in August.

"I'm still involved in organ transplants, yes," Cohan said at the time.

Cohan spent time in an Italian jail, but charges were never filed.

He was arrested in Los Angeles last year and pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of firearms, including 34 guns and 31,000 rounds of ammunition.

In that case, Cohan and his attorney asked for and received a lighter sentence based on Cohan's "poor health" including emphysema that requires medication and oxygen for breathing.

"So I think Mr. Cohan should really come clean with the federal government," said Link. "He can't have end-stage emphysema and be climbing mountains. It just doesn't work."

Meanwhile, Grace Espinoza said she was very disappointed that Gracy's Mexican Deli will face Cohan in court Tuesday. She is the second of Cohan's 15 new cases.

"I think that he is a bad person. He is looking for easy money," said Espinoza.

Eyewitness News will be in court for Espinoza's small-claims trial against James Cohan.

Eyewitness News will have an update to the story Tuesday at 11 p.m. Also in that broadcast: An investigation of another professional plaintiff named Alfredo Garcia.

So far, Garcia has filed more than 500 lawsuits against local small businesses. A judge threatened him with jail Monday. So how can still be suing small businesses? Find out on Eyewitness News Tuesday at 11 p.m.


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