When the Rhomberg family realized that there wasn't enough space in their car for their two children plus a new baby, they pinched their pennies and bought a minivan. Then, they piled into it and drove across the country to Arizona, where their adoption attorney, Kevin Cohen, had told them their baby girl was being born.
But the baby that the Georgia couple had fallen in love with never existed. And Tuesday, as they and other victims watched, the man who lied to them about that baby, and stole $45,000 of their money along the way, was sentenced to the maximum for his crimes: 10 to 20 years in prison.
In November, Cohen, 41, of Roslyn, was convicted of multiple counts of second- and third-degree grand larceny, scheme to defraud and forgery, among other charges. Witnesses from 13 families testified during his three-week trial, saying he preyed on their vulnerability by giving them forged sonogram photos and lab tests with details on fictitious babies. He stole a total of about $300,000, prosecutors say, which he will have to pay back to the victims.
Michael Rhomberg said he, his wife and their two previously adopted daughters are still reeling from the loss of the baby they believed in, and had already named Sylvia.
"For us, Sylvia lived and breathed in our hearts and dreams," Rhomberg said at the sentencing, adding that the minivan, car seat and piles of tiny baby clothes still serve as painful reminders of what they lost."Now, we understand what it means when people say they feel like they got punched in the stomach."
During the trial, Cohen, who represented himself, said he suffers from multiple illnesses, including bipolar disorder. He spoke briefly before he was sentenced, saying he shared his victims' "shock, disdain and bewilderment" over his actions.
Nassau County Judge John Kase addressed Cohen, who himself was adopted, before sentencing him.
He said Cohen was given a loving home, an education, a profession and a trust fund. But rather than using it for good, "You used it for yourself, and whatever selfish motives you had," Kase said.
Milton Josephs and his wife, of Port Washington, spent months preparing their 6-year-old daughter for a new baby sister, he said, only to have to tell her they had all been lied to. "Mr. Cohen is a true villain," Josephs told Kase at the sentencing.