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Prominent Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen's condo in foreclosure

TAMPA — Barry Cohen is one of Tampa Bay's highest profile lawyers. His law firm's website lists hundreds of millions of dollars in awards it has won on behalf of clients.

So a lawsuit filed against Cohen in August stands in unusual contrast to his public image as a lawyer whose career has seen great success.

It's a foreclosure action.

Wells Fargo bank has filed suit in Pinellas County to foreclose on a Redington Shores condominium unit that Cohen owns, saying he hasn't made a mortgage payment since April 1. Cohen lives in Tampa, and the condo is not his primary residence.

That's not the only thing in the public record that contrasts with Cohen's financial successes.

The foreclosure action came several months after Cohen sold his $3.6 million Tierra Verde home to move into a million-dollar home in Tampa's Hyde Park.

The foreclosure also came after Cohen received a $250,000 loan from his longtime friend, Greg Henderson, the fiance of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Cohen denied any financial difficulties and insisted his firm, Cohen & Foster, is doing well, working hard for clients and collecting the largest legal settlements in Tampa Bay.

Cohen said the foreclosure will soon be dismissed by the bank. He said an employee who handles the mortgage payments was late making a payment, and the bank filed the suit in error. Wells Fargo officials could not be reached Wednesday for comment.

Cohen said he sold his Pinellas County home in late 2010 because the real estate market had tanked, and it didn't make good business sense to keep it. Besides, he said, his wife didn't like the home.

Cohen acknowledged that talk about his firm's finances is circulating. He said it is generated by enemies, perhaps in the legal community, whom he said are envious of his success.

"There's not a lawyer in town who can get a $15 million fee for a criminal case," Cohen said. "I've gotten some of the biggest verdicts in this town. . . . There are people who resent that. There are people who resent success. So they want to try to embarrass me."

The foreclosure suit came the same month that two lawyers in Cohen's firm, including partner Steve Romine, quit on the same day. Romine and a firm associate said they were seeking new opportunities and said firm finances had nothing to do with their decision.

Also in August, a filing in a federal lawsuit in which Cohen represented plaintiffs in a whistle-blower lawsuit involving a biotechnology firm indicated Cohen didn't have full control of his firm's finances.

In a motion to intervene in the litigation and join the lawsuit, a doctor formerly represented by Cohen said Alan Goldberg was in control of the law firm's "general financial functioning."

Goldberg heads Crisis Management, a Miami firm that specializes in turning around companies in financial distress.

The motion said Goldberg, who did not return a call for comment, was installed in the job by "the group that was funding the Cohen Firm" and that "it was not within" Cohen's "power to dismiss" Goldberg.

The group providing the funding was not named in the motion to intervene, which the court ultimately did not grant.

Cohen said Wednesday that Goldberg no longer works at his firm. Cohen said he willingly hired Goldberg, denying he was forced on the firm.

"He was working for me directly," Cohen said.

Cohen said his firm often must carry expenses for years as it waits for a big case to settle. He said he has several multi-million-dollar settlements expected to pay out soon. The long delay in settling cases, he said, requires him to seek financing from creditors to pay his overhead.

In November 2010, he got the loan from Henderson for that purpose, Cohen said. The loan, he said, has not yet been repaid in full.

"We have a lot of money on the street," Cohen said. "I had four or five million on the street before. You get your money (from cases,) and you pay it back. It's a little tougher today because banks aren't loaning any money. . . . We're up and we're down."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Reach William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

Prominent Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen's condo in foreclosure 11/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 12:08am]
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