New York prosecutors had recommended last week that Cohen serve up to four years in prison for crimes including tax evasion, false bank statements, campaign-finance violations, and lying to Congress—a recommendation that Cohen’s lawyer Guy Petrillo called “strident” and “unfair” in Wednesday’s hearing. But Judge Pauley accused Cohen of being motivated by “personal greed” and thriving on “access to wealthy and powerful people.” Each of his crimes was “sophisticated,” Pauley said, and “standing alone, warrant considerable punishment.” He ordered Cohen to surrender on March 6, 2019, at which point he will be taken to the Otisville Correctional Facility in New York State.
The recommendation by the Southern District of New York surprised Cohen’s legal team, Cohen’s former lawyer Lanny Davis told The Atlantic, given how starkly it contrasted with a concurrent filing issued by Mueller, who is investigating Trump’s campaign for potentially conspiring with Russia in 2016. Mueller wrote last week that Cohen had provided the special counsel “with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation,” in addition to details about Trump’s pursuit of a Trump Tower deal in Moscow during the election. Jeannie Rhee, a prosecutor in Mueller’s office, echoed that conclusion in court on Wednesday. “Mr. Cohen has sought to tell us the truth,” she said, while remaining tight-lipped about the ongoing investigation.
Cohen’s sentence is a warning to anyone caught up in the Mueller probe who declines to cooperate with prosecutors. Whereas Mueller’s team credited Cohen with his eventual assistance—while pointing out that he was not initially forthcoming—New York prosecutors recommended that Cohen serve prison time owing in part to his “affirmative decision” not to cooperate fully with the Southern District. He was not willing to discuss “other criminal uncharged conduct, if any, in his past,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo, and that was a deal breaker. Nicolas Roos, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Cohen in the Southern District, asserted that allowing Cohen to engage in “selective cooperation” would “send the wrong message” that such behavior is rewarded. Cohen said he chose not to enter into a full cooperation agreement because “the sooner I am sentenced, the sooner I can return to my family.”
“I don’t need a cooperation agreement in place to do the right thing,” Cohen said. But Pauley, the judge, said, “Our system of justice would be less robust without the use of cooperating agreements with law enforcement.”
Davis, who decided after Cohen’s sentencing that his job as Cohen’s lawyer was done, called the difference in tone between the Mueller and Southern District memos “the tale of two prosecutors.” “It’s the difference between Mueller looking at the big picture—how Cohen has cooperated on issues core to the investigation into a potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia—versus the Southern District, which is not telling the full story,” Davis said. (The Southern District did not return a request for comment on Davis’s allegation.) He pointed to a detail mentioned by Petrillo in his sentencing memo filed last week—namely, that “Michael was notified through counsel” of the government’s decision to charge him “only three or four days” before the charges were filed.