The V.I. Attorney General has requested review of the 3rd Circuit Court’s decision to uphold a full pardon for radio station owner Jonathan Cohen, who said he intends on fully repaying his nearly $900,000 tax liability regardless of the court’s ruling.
V.I. Solicitor General Pamela Tepper filed the notice for an en banc review Wednesday, arguing that the decision is contrary to prior rulings .
But Cohen said in a recent interview with The Daily News that he has already repaid about $300,000 of his tax obligation, and will continue to work with the Internal Revenue Bureau to repay the remainder of the $892,402 he owes.
Cohen said he fell behind in his taxes while paying for his elderly mother’s care
“What I find very disturbing,” Cohen said, “is I’ve been part of the Virgin Islands community since 1982 and I’m not trying to run away from my obligations, OK? I have family issues just like some other people.
“I didn’t see anybody else being treated the way I was treated over the last seven years. And you know, handcuffing me and shackling me, was that really necessary? Did we have to go that route?
“I’m not going to ask for special favors, OK? But I did wrong. The returns were not filed. They were not misrepresented in any way. So, and you know, basically, this is what transpired over seven years.”
The V.I. government charged Cohen with 21 counts of various tax crimes in 2014, including failure to file a tax return and pay income tax, and willful failure to pay gross-receipt taxes for his three corporations.
Cohen signed a plea deal in 2015, which he admitted to two counts, and agreed to pay $892,402 in restitution and serve five years of probation. At sentencing, the court also imposed $10,000 in fines.
On Dec. 22, 2018, former Gov. Kenneth Mapp pardoned Cohen, who filed a motion to vacate his sentence and stay transfer of his restitution payments from the court registry to the government.
When the District Court denied those motions, Cohen appealed to the 3rd Circuit, which reviewed the lower court’s ruling.
During oral arguments held in May, Cohen’s attorney, Yohana Manning, said that while the government could still pursue civil remedies to recoup the unpaid taxes, Mapp’s pardon meant that Cohen’s criminal conviction and all related punishments were erased — including the restitution order.
In an opinion filed on Sept. 9, two judges — Julio Fuentes and Peter Phipps — agreed with Manning, and ruled that the lower court erred. While the government could still file a civil claim, “Cohen received a general pardon, free from any limitations or conditions,” the judges wrote. “Consequently, Cohen is no longer bound by his criminal conviction — including the court-ordered restitution schedule.”
Cohen said he’d been repaying his back taxes — and will continue to do so .
In the motion filed Wednesday, Tepper argued that Cohen’s restitution order should remain in case he continues to fail to pay his taxes.
“His pardon does not extend to speculative future misconduct — it only extends to the punishment that he was sentenced to as a result of his past crimes,” according to Tepper. “But, in this case, the restitution that he was ordered to pay was an obligation that existed prior to his criminal actions and was meant to compensate the People of the Virgin Islands — not to punish Cohen.”