Bail denied for international father-son hotel developers accused of dodging millions in taxes

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A father and son portrayed by federal prosecutors as ultra-wealthy hotel developers who lived in lavish mansions from Miami Beach to Madrid but dodged millions in U.S. taxes were denied bail Thursday by a federal judge over fears they would flee before trial.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow noted that Mauricio Cohen Assor, 77, and Leon Cohen Levy, 46, currently live in Monaco but also have strong ties to Africa, Spain, France and other places where they could escape U.S. prosecution. The elder Cohen is a Spanish citizen, while his son is a U.S. citizen who has also lived abroad.

"I just couldn't possibly set a bond in this case," Snow said at a hearing. "I would really be surprised if these defendants showed up for trial."

The Cohens are accused in a criminal complaint of conspiring to defraud the U.S. by failing to report income on the 2000 sale of a $33 million residential hotel in New York operated under the Flatotel name. The elder Cohen, born in Algiers but living much of his life in France, built Flatotel into an international brand, according to court documents.

Kevin Downing, a senior Justice Department trial attorney who has handled several high-profile tax evasion cases, said the Cohens used offshore entities to hide millions of dollars from the Internal Revenue Service. He said they also used family members to conceal assets and even provided some associates with a written script so they could give false testimony in a New York civil case.

"It really is fairly outrageous. The Cohens are willing to perpetrate fraud on the courts of the United States," Downing said.

The Cohens have pleaded not guilty. Mauricio Cohen's attorney, Michael Pasano, rejected U.S. claims that they have extreme wealth, contending that their luxury homes, cars and yachts were loaned by corporations for which they worked. He said they lived until their April arrests in a modest apartment in Monaco with assets between them totaling only about $15,300.

Mauricio Cohen told authorities his only income is a $3,000-a-month French pension.

"It's clear that some people are saying things that we think are lies," Pasano said. "These are things we will fight over."

However, prosecutors say the Cohens over the years have claimed assets such as:

— A $26 million waterfront home on Miami Beach with its own dock, 6 bedrooms, 7½ baths, an elevator and a recording studio.

— A large mansion in Madrid, a $10 million condo in New York's Trump World Tower, and a luxurious home and apartments in Paris.

— Luxury vehicles including a Rolls-Royce, a Lamborghini, a Porsche, a Bentley and a Mercedes-Benz.

— A credit line for a 180-foot mega-yacht that included its own office, elevators and entertainment lounges.

— A 90-foot Italian prototype speedboat called the "Sonia Jet."

No trial date has been set. The conspiracy charge against both men carries a potential five-year prison sentence, but an indictment is expected that could add additional charges. The Cohens also could be forced to pay back taxes and penalties.