The Lawyer Who Represented Terrorists Heads to Prison, as Unapologetic as Ever

Categories: Longform

Photo by Celeste Sloman
Stanley Cohen in his Lower East Side apartment sporting a kaffiyeh — a symbol of Palestinian independence.
Mid October, 2014.

Stanley Cohen abruptly stops responding to voicemails. When you dial his cell, you hear the telltale sound of an overseas phone call, followed by a hold message in Arabic.

Cohen is known to friends and foes alike as an eccentric of the highest order, a foul-mouthed criminal-defense attorney with unruly gray hair, a Saddam Hussein-straight-out-of-the-spider-hole beard, and a long history of representing enemies of the people the world over. In a 2002 profile, the Washington Post's Richard Leiby described him as "possibly one of the most hated lawyers in [New York City]." In his Lower East Side apartment, which doubles as his office, he displays photos of himself wearing a wide grin alongside Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder and spiritual leader of the Middle Eastern terrorist organization Hamas. Only weeks ago he wore a black-and-white-checked kaffiyeh for a press conference outside the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan where he'd just unsuccessfully defended Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the highest-ranking Al Qaeda member ever tried in a civilian court.

But going AWOL like this is a puzzling turn of events even by Cohen standards.

He is, after all, awaiting word on when and where to report to federal prison to serve an eighteen-month sentence for tax crimes. Granted, the date has been delayed repeatedly, but what judge in his right mind would allow Stanley Cohen to...disappear?

"Before you go to prison, you know, you have a party, you see your friends," posits one longtime friend of Cohen's. "This is the kind of guy he is."

Others speculate he has turned government informant.

On October 16, Cohen tweets that he's in Kuwait: "No, I have not dropped off of the face of the earth, I am in the ME for a very short but essential trip."

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How a Foundry Owner in Queens Got Rich Selling Imitations of World-Famous Sculptures

Categories: Longform

Ramsay de Give Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/Newscom
Brian Ramnarine during his 2014 trial.
When you consider how many things can go wrong at a metal foundry, it's a miracle that anything comes out right. The range of potential catastrophes is almost infinite. Molds crack, wax shatters; molten bronze does strange things at 1,700 degrees.

But a great many things came out right at Long Island City's Empire Bronze Foundry in the 1980s, mostly because of Brian Ramnarine. The stout, thick-fingered artisan owned and operated the foundry for more than a decade, achieving a great deal of notoriety in the world of fine sculpture along the way. The role of a metal foundry is to execute an artistic work in perfect replica; to take an original form in clay or plaster or carved stone and render it in cold metal. And for a period beginning in the late '80s and lasting through the late '90s, only a few dozen artisans in the United States, maybe fewer, could handle bronze like Ramnarine.

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Ho, Ho, Bro: How SantaCon Went From Joyful Performance Art to Reviled Bar Crawl

Categories: Longform

Photo by Paul Quitoriano
For John Law, December 19, 1998, was the night that saved Christmas.

The young San Franciscan strapped on a fake white beard, donned a $12 red suit, and led 200 Santas as they went caroling up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. During their joyful march uptown, throngs of bustling New Yorkers and tourists paused to gawk at the sea of red felt and velour. A police officer yelled, "Hey, Santa! Can you get me a date with Cindy Crawford?" A starry-eyed couple asked Law to pose for a photo with their baby.

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Spy vs. Guy: What It's Like to Be the Target of NYPD Surveillance

Categories: Longform

Photographs by Willie Davis
Thadeaus Umpster -- real name Dennis Burke -- was under NYPD surveillance for at least two years.
A pair of tattered banners billowing in the wind mark the site of the Brooklyn Free Store. One reads "ANARCHY For a Better World"; the other says "Share," with an anarchist symbol replacing the letter a.

Books and VHS tapes are packed into a line of milk crates stacked two high — law textbooks, Game of Thrones volumes, Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life — and more spill out of a suitcase just behind those (vestiges of Occupy Wall Street's People's Library). There's a table piled with neat sheaves of anarchist literature, Xeroxed copies of the writings of Emma Goldman, and a guide to the Free Store, written in both English and Spanish.

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All the Young Jews: In the Village of Kiryas Joel, New York, the Median Age Is 13

Categories: Longform

Abandoned toys litter the village. Tricycles are toppled on lawns. Red wagons rest beneath mailboxes. Big Wheels are strewn across apartment-complex courtyards. Hundreds of toys are sprawled over these 691 acres, but there's not a child in sight. It's midmorning, and all the kids are in school.

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Reynaldo Nazario Knew How to Do One Thing Really Well: Steal Cars

Categories: Longform

Illustrations by Tom Huck
Reynaldo Nazario had a twin sister, but she died when they were eight months old. His family soon realized that he was slower than most children. He didn't walk until he was five. He didn't know how to use his hands or feet. He couldn't speak, because he didn't know how to use his tongue. He took special-ed classes. The family lived in the Bronx, and didn't have much money, but spent what they could on doctors and speech therapists. One doctor told them that half of Reynaldo's brain worked fine but the other half worked at 40 percent of normal. He would never learn to read or write. "They say the other baby took away all the strength that he needed to have," his older sister, Mercedes, says.

As an adult, Reynaldo could spell only his name, which he wrote in big capital letters. He had the mind of an eight-year-old, one doctor explained to the family. He was trusting and gullible. "If you tell him the sky is going to be green tomorrow, he's gonna believe it'll be green," says his wife, Sylvia. He was eager to call someone a friend after two or three encounters. He was easily excited, even quicker to panic. He knew little about the world beyond what he saw and heard around him. And it seemed to him that life came easier to everybody else and there was nothing he could do about it.

But he could steal cars.

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How Can New York Stop the City's Worst Landlords?

Photos by Jena Cumbo
90 Elizabeth Street, one of many NYC apartments with rent-controlled tenants.
When the trouble came to 90 Elizabeth Street, it arrived quietly, in a flurry of white papers. They blanketed the mailboxes and the front doors of many of the tenants in the modest Chinatown apartment building, a forbidding snowdrift of eggshell, piled with angry black type. When 43-year-old Betty Eng got home one spring afternoon last year, she found one waiting for her, too. It was a lawsuit, filed by her new landlords against her, her younger brother, her father, and her mother. Eng's mother, who is in her eighties, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and had recently moved into a nursing home. Eng's father had been dead since 2010.

The suit said that the Engs, who had lived in their apartment since 1970, a year before Betty's birth, weren't actually living there full-time, and thus were not legally entitled to the rent-stabilized unit. It warned that an eviction proceeding would be initiated against them. The suit also alleged that the Engs hadn't been paying the rent. But Betty had been paying, she says, sending the checks through certified mail. Each month, Marolda Properties refused to accept them. They piled up, uncashed.

"They were refusing them," Eng says. "The envelopes would just come back."

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How a '50s-Era New York Knife Law Has Landed Thousands in Jail

Categories: Longform

Click for a larger version. Photo courtesy of
The original gravity knife was used by German Luftwaffe paratroopers in World War II.
In retrospect, Richard Neal knows he should have just gone home.

It was already nearly 4 a.m. on a sticky June night in 2008, and the LaGuardia Houses on the Lower East Side were crawling with cops. It was the kind of situation Neal normally prefers to avoid. Where police are, he'd rather not be.

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How Some Illegal Taxi Drivers Are Fighting Back Against the Green Cab Program

Categories: Longform

All illustrations by Greg Houston
It was a busy night, two days before Christmas, and the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant were packed with shoppers. So Emmanuel* was out later than usual. He had just picked up one last fare from his corner in Bed-Stuy, which was usually a safe zone, but moments later he was pulled over by a Ford Econoline van. Emmanuel knew the model. It was what New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission officers used when they did undercover sweeps for illegal cab drivers.

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'I Was Choked by the NYPD': New York's Chokehold Problem Isn't Going Away

Categories: Longform, NYPD

As far as Angel Martinez was concerned, the police officer at the front desk that night wasn't much more than an inconvenience. Sure, he'd refused to take Martinez's complaint. He was even a little rude about it. But for Martinez, after a night in Queens central booking, with his face battered and welts blooming all over his body, that officer was an afterthought.

Martinez was more concerned about the other two cops. The ones he says kicked his ass for no good reason. The ones who'd approached him and started patting him down without a word of explanation. The ones who slammed his face into a parked car, then onto the sidewalk, when he objected. The ones who ruined the new plaid button-down he'd bought for a job interview earlier that day — torn it to shreds.

Those officers, Martinez has alleged in a complaint with the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), punched him in the ribs, handcuffed him — and punched him one more time, for good measure. They were the ones he was concerned with. Especially Officer Frank Calafiore — who Martinez says kept an arm wrapped around his throat almost from the moment the encounter began.

He still isn't exactly sure of the legal definition, but it sure felt like a chokehold.

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