Attorneys open theft trial against Boulder immigration attorney Emily Cohen

By Mitchell Byars, Camera Staff WriterPOSTED: 12/02/2014 10:49:08 AM MST| UPDATED: ABOUT 2 HOURS AGO

Emily Cohen, an immigration lawyer, walks to the courtroom Nov. 26 in Boulder. (Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera)

Attorneys made opening arguments Tuesday in the trial of former Boulder immigration attorney Emily Cohen, who prosecutors allege scammed dozens of families out of thousands of dollars.

Cohen, 34, is facing 21 counts — primarily felony theft charges — as prosecutors argue she took more than $200,000 from 79 families without providing the services promised.

"This defendant didn't keep promises," Deputy District Attorney Jane Walsh told the jury in her opening statements Tuesday. "What she kept was the money."

Cohen was arrested in February after seven families alleged she had agreed to represent them in various immigration cases, collected more than $41,000 in combined fees and then dropped out of contact without producing any of the visas or work permits she promised to help them obtain.

Walsh said Cohen moved between offices without leaving forwarding information and failed to return calls and emails from clients.

After her arrest, numerous other clients came forward to report she also took money from them without providing the services promised, prosecutors say. Walsh said Cohen took advantage of the fact that most of her clients did not speak much English and had immigration issues that might prevent them from going to the authorities.

"The defendant, Emily Cohen, was a licensed attorney in the state of Colorado and used that as an opportunity to steal money from her clients," Walsh said. "Hold her accountable, whether she is a lawyer or not."

But Cohen's attorney Steven Louth said his client was not running what prosecutors were trying to paint as a "sophisticated criminal enterprise."

"Not one time did this woman over here receive money without the intention of providing legal services," Louth said.
Louth put numerous posters before the jury, listing the alleged victims in the case. As he went through them, Louth told the jury that some of the clients canceled checks, backed out of meetings or disclosed information that meant Cohen could not fill out the forms they wanted her to.

Louth also said many of the clients came forward only after media reports of Cohen's initial arrest in which the District Attorney's Office asked for other potential victims to come forward.

"Now it's a dog pile," Louth said. "Everyone is coming out of the woodwork."

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Before the jury was seated, Louth made a motion to introduce U visas — given to immigrants who are victims of certain crimes in the U.S. — as a possible motive for the clients to make allegations against Cohen.

Boulder District Judge Andrew Hartman rejected the motion because theft was not a crime applicable to U visas, and none of the alleged victims in the case had applied for a U visa. Hartman said Louth could bring the issue up if he entered proof that one of the alleged victims was applying for a U visa as a result of the case.

Just days before the trial started, prosecutors dropped 33 other counts in the interest of "efficiency and judicial economy," over the objection of Louth.