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James Farkus Cohan, serial plaintiff, suffers court setback - Eyewitness News Investigation

March 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
James Farkus Cohan has made a career out of being a con artist. Eyewitness News first introduced you to the Sun Valley senior citizen in August. Cohan claims he's disabled, with end-stage emphysema.

Cohan is a convicted felon who sues small businesses, demanding thousands of dollars for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But Cohan is not disabled, as our exclusive Eyewitness News investigation found. And now his cons may finally be catching up with him. Eyewitness News was there as he faced a federal judge Tuesday. He used a walker outside court.

"I don't have anything to say to you," said Cohan as he passed.

But on Monday, Eyewitness News caught up with him once again hiking up a steep hill near his Sun Valley home. He was taped hiking the same hill in August.

Cohan is a five-time convicted felon. He's been investigated by the FBI, the ATF, the LAPD, the California attorney general's office, even authorities in Italy for alleged organ trafficking.

But time after time, Cohan avoids prison time by claiming he's disabled.

"I have a prescription for a wheelchair," said Cohan. "This is information for my arthritis from doctor that I see," said Cohan.

Cohan has filed at least 180 lawsuits against businesses in Southern California, claiming violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Further, the court finds that plaintiff has not proven that he is in fact disabled and therefore finds for the defendant," said the judge in court Tuesday.

And that's what may finally send Cohan to prison.

"That's his schtick," said federal prosecutor Greg Lesser. "When it is convenient for him, and helpful for him, he will appear as a disabled person."

Lesser is the federal prosecutor who just Tuesday asked a judge to revoke Cohan's probation on firearms charges, probation Cohan was granted after showing up at a sentencing in a wheelchair and requesting a lighter sentence due to his purported disability.

"The thing that determines whether Mr. Cohan needs assistance in walking seems to be whether he's in front of a judge or not," said Lesser.

Tuesday, federal judge Gary Klausner said he "made a mistake" in not sentencing Cohan to prison on that firearms conviction.

"I believed he was physically disabled ... and he's not," said Klausner.

But Klausner is not the only judge Cohan has duped.

Cohan gave a handwritten letter to Judge Leland Harris last year asking "for mercy" and "home detention" instead of the 90 days in jail he was sentenced to for running an illegal marijuana dispensary. Cohan ended up serving only two days. Cohan was running the Saticoy Collective in Reseda with son Jacob. They were arrested in April 2010.

But just two months later, in June 2010, James Cohan had filed articles of incorporation papers for the Oklevueha Native American Church of Southern California. It's in the same exact location as his previously raided marijuana dispensary, right on busy Saticoy Street in Reseda.

Monday, cameras recorded 13 patients, or maybe parishioners, coming and going within about 90 minutes. A person at the door was asked if the location was still the Saticoy Collective.

"No, we're a Native American church now," said the person at the door.

An Eyewitness News producer has knocked on the door of the church twice now and smelled marijuana both times.

"To get the pot, you have to have a number?" asked the producer.

"You have to be a member. Only members can come in," said the person at the door.

The Oklevueha Native American Church is known for its fight in federal court to use cannabis as part of its religious ceremonies.

Cohan was asked about the Oklevueha Native American church outside the courthouse after his hearing Tuesday. Cohan wouldn't answer questions about the church.

Prosecutors and the Los Angeles Police Department are aware of it.

Meanwhile, the judge Tuesday did modify Cohan's probation: He'll have less freedom to leave his house. Prosecutors still hope to have Cohan's probation revoked and put him in prison.