The former owner of a Great Neck automobile dealership was sentenced to 4 years in prison Thursday for running a $10 million fraud that tricked customers -- including two former New York Islanders -- into believing they were getting good deals on purchases, officials said.
Rick Cohen, 51, of Syosset, was also ordered to make restitution and serve 5 years of supervised release at his sentencing in federal court in Central Islip before U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert.
Seybert could have sentenced Cohen to between 11 and 13 years in prison upon his conviction for conspiracy, and bank, mail and wire fraud.
Before his sentencing, Cohen pleaded for no jail time, telling Seybert that since being charged, he has worked as a dedicated volunteer with the Syosset Fire Department, earned a degree as an emergency medical technician and planned to become a paramedic.
"I have changed," Cohen said, noting his community service. "I am sorry for the victims. . . . More important is the victims and what I can [now] do for them. I was a 'me' person. It's no longer about me."
Seybert said she balanced Cohen's recent community work against a previous fraud conviction before he opened his Great Neck dealership and the harm done by cheating his customers and companies that financed many of the purchases.
Seybert also allowed Cohen to delay beginning his prison sentence for one year so that he could be with his teenage son before the boy begins college.
Among the victims of the scheme were former Islanders hockey players Mike Comrie and Mark Streit. They could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Operating at his now-defunct North Shore Motor Group on East Shore Road in Great Neck, Cohen cheated customers in two ways, according to Eastern District U.S. Attorney Christopher Ott.
In one scheme, Cohen falsely told customers that he would use part of the sales proceeds to pay off the loan on trade-ins, the prosecutor said.
In a second scheme, Cohen told buyers that they would get the best deal by financing a car purchase with a short-term loan. But he actually had his victims sign up for long-term car loans, pocketing the long-term loan payments as they came in. Cohen also changed the addresses on the loan papers to that of his business, so dunning notices from the financing companies never reached the customers.
Comrie was cheated when he bought a Mercedes from Cohen; Streit in the purchase of a Porsche for $60,000 and a Mercedes for $70,000, according to sources familiar with the case.
After the sentencing, Cohen's attorney, Joseph Conway, of Mineola, called the sentence "fair and thoughtful." Prosecutor Ott declined to comment.