Divorce Fraud Leads to 17 years in Prison

GEO#1California businessman Steven Zinnel, age 50, thought he could get away with cheating his wife, his two teenage children, and the bankruptcy court, but he was wrong….boy was he wrong!

Zinnel and his wife, of Gold River, separated in 1999. By 2001 their uncoupling got even more ugly when he told his wife she would get nothing, no assets or support because he was filing for bankruptcy.

Zinnel systematically funnelled millions of dollars into the names of other persons and true to his word, filed for voluntary bankruptcy in 2005. He also laundered money through shell corporations in order to conceal his true income.

Shockingly, he did all this with the assistance of lawyer, Derian Eidson, age 50, who used her trust account, her personal account and a corporation she owned to return the funds to Zinnel after his discharge from bankruptcy.

But he didn’t stop there…Zinnel went on to initiate an FBI investigation of his ex-wife, displaying a hatred that knew no bounds and that eventually led to his own demise.

In the course of the investigation, authorities uncovered Mr. Zinnel’s bankruptcy and divorce fraud. Before U.S. District Court Judge Troy Nunley he was sentenced to 17 years and eight months in prison, fined $500,000, and ordered to disgorge the sum of $2.8 million to the state.

Judge Nunley in bankruptcy court and the 3rd District Court of Appeal in respect of his divorce matter condemned Zinnel for his narcissistic arrogance, and found that while he was articulate and charismatic he used those traits for his own selfish purposes.

Yorba Linda lawyer Ms. Eidson, was disbarred and sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison for money laundering. She was also fined $200,000. Her undoing began when she commenced an intimate relationship with Zinnel and became a victim of her own greed.

As for Mr. Zinnel, his phone call to his son when first imprisoned shows that he still doesn’t get it…he told his son that he was “railroaded” and blamed his ex- wife!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge Trashes New York Landmark “Carnegie Deli” in Divorce Ruling

49afd8240a58bf0fb97d4a86105572c1I was in New York city last fall and near the top of our agenda was a trip to the Carnegie Deli, a landmark in mid-town since 1937 and run by the Levine family since 1976. Its claim to fame is kosher pastrami, corned beef, and their famous cheesecake, all of which they can ship almost anywhere in the world. It’s a very kitschy little place with uneven floors and plastic table cloths, but there is always a line-up.

I didn’t expect the Carnegie Deli to be featured in a divorce post, but it seems that Marian Harper Levine and her husband Sandy, who now runs the deli with her, were lambasted by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper for their petty squabbles, while litigants with serious problems were put on the back burner. The audacious judge said:

“What I care more about is the fact they’ve made millions of millions of dollars on the backs of dishwashers, cleaners and pastrami slicers who make as much in a year as they’ve made in a day or two.”

This was apparently in reference to a recent $2.65 million dollar settlement reached between the Levine’s and their staff, who were cheated out of proper wages for over a decade.

Mrs. Levine’s application was to reduce the $11,00 per month she has been paying her husband in spousal support, a request that was denied by Judge Cooper. She also complained that her husband, who began an affair with the deli’s former hostess, had helped himself to huge sums of money, an allegation that was called “all smoked meat and mirrors” by Mr. Levine’s witty attorney, Donald Frank. Mrs. Levine took exception to the trivialization of her concerns by opposing counsel, a view that Judge Cooper dismissed saying:

“This is not a case where I lose sleep at night. This is not some case where I have people with disabled children, where I have people who can’t afford to make next-month’s rent”…If I made light of anything, if I joked more than I should have, if I occasionally used a sarcastic tone…it’s not that I’ve lost track of what this case is about…”

No doubt we’ll hear more about the dissolution of the Levine’s 22-year marriage…as for me, I really didn’t like their cheesecake at all!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Wife/Mother Uses 357 Magnum to Settle Scores

_DSC4179 - Version 2Linda Cooney is a woman with a 357 caliber Magnum revolver and a penchant for shooting it. To date she has shot and killed her husband, James Cooney, an event that occurred 23 years ago, and most recently in 2011, her son, Kevin Cooney, who is alive but a quadriplegic.

In the early 1990’s Linda and James Cooney were involved in what is described as a “high-conflict” divorce, rife with disputes over parenting time, contempt citations, and financial issues. Mr. Cooney was a Florida probate and tax lawyer who met Linda when she worked as a legal secretary. They married in 1979 and separated in 1987.

The court ordered Mr. Cooney to pay his wife three years of alimony and when the order expired, Ms. Cooney brought an application for continued spousal support and an order to move with their two young sons to California. Mr. Cooney opposed both motions and brought a cross application to remove custody of the children from his ex-wife on account of her “psychological instability”. He relied on examples of his ex-wife’s harassing, out-of-control behavior during the divorce proceedings and allegations in a lawsuit brought against her by a former boyfriend, who was also a lawyer. That suit settled when she accused the boyfriend of giving her herpes.

On the day of his death, James Cooney arrived at his wife’s home to pick up his sons Kevin, age 10 and Christopher, age 8, for a visit. Earlier that day Mr. Cooney had obtained a court order compelling Ms. Cooney to attend for a psychiatric assessment. Ms. Cooney’s lawyer told the jury that she shot her husband in self-defence when he attacked her with an eight inch kitchen knife.

When the police asked 11-year-old Kevin Cooney whether he saw something in his father’s hands, he said he did not. But later at the jury trial, he said he saw a “shiny object”. Court pundits say that the police investigation and evidence collection was shoddy, and Linda Cooney was acquitted, without even taking the witness stand in her own defence.

James Cooney’s family could not locate his will, however, his million dollar estate did not go to Ms. Cooney, but to his sons, although she was now their sole guardian.

Fast forward to 2011 when Linda Cooney again picked up her 357 and shot her son Kevin. Her lawyers say that she shot in self-defence when her 6’7″ son, who worked as a bouncer and doorman on the Las Vegas strip, punched her repeatedly after arguing about Kevin’s choice in girlfriends. An ongoing feud about girlfriend Karina Taylor developed after Linda Cooney called Ms. Taylor a “whore, a stripper and a skank” and advised her employer she was laundering money and selling drugs, all apparently untrue.

This time around Kevin will again play an essential role in his mother’s prosecution. He is reportedly not talking to police or cooperating with the state, although in an earlier statement he confirmed the shooting was an accident.

Meanwhile Linda Cooney has been in custody since February 2014 after her conviction for assaulting Ms. Taylor when she visited Kevin Cooney in the hospital during his recovery.

James Cooney’s family was shattered by the outcome of their son’s case and will likely be incredulous if Linda Cooney escapes justice twice, however, if Kevin testifies in her favour, that is the likely result.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

A New Way To Divorce: Conscious Uncoupling

La Spiga 2011-03-22In the wake of actress and sometime singer, Gwyneth Paltrow, and rock musician Chris Martin’s not unexpected separation, a new way to divorce has emerged.

Referred to by Ms. Paltrow as “conscious uncoupling”, the phrase prompted much hilarity and ridicule, especially by Twitterers and the entertainment media.

Salon magazine suggested her method of divorce was another of her “clueless air-headed” ideas, calling it a “woo-woo Eastern-ish” philosophy, in keeping with most of what is endorsed by Gwyneth on her website “Goop”.

But now that I have stifled my giggles, what on earth is Ms. Paltrow talking about and why, as a divorce lawyer, have I never heard of it before? I know about collaborative divorce, sharia divorce, no-fault divorce and uncontested divorce and I know that common-law marriages never end in divorce, they just end.

The brain-child of Katherine Woodward Thomas, a psychotherapist licensed in California, she offers her course, “The Art of Conscious Completion” as an online seminar, at no charge. Her method has three goals: to release the trauma of a breakup, to reclaim your power and to reinvent your life”.

Thomas’s philosophy of marriage is that it is not “the tie that binds” and in 21st century living where ones’ longevity has far eclipsed earlier centuries, it is foolish to think that people will only have one lifetime partner. She says:

“I’m a fan of marriage but recognize that most people in their lives will have two to three longtime relationships–which means one to two breakups…”

Ms. Paltrow’s celebrity endorsement of Thomas’s teachings is apparently a big surprise to her, as she admits she has never met the Paltrow-Martin clan, but who can blame her if she capitalizes on the publicity?

But not everyone is mocking Paltrow’s message. Many others believe that, despite the new-age language, Paltrow and Martin are taking control of the process and modeling a civilized way to terminate their marriage, but not their friendship and shared parental roles. In fact, they are reportedly vacationing together now.

As for me, it is naïve to think that utilizing the psycho-babble of a catchphrase like “conscious uncoupling” can eliminate the pain of rejection, the loss of a dream, and the anguish of divorce’s most innocent victims, namely, children.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Russian Billionaire Who Bankrolled Sochi Olympics Faces Ugly Divorce

GEO#1Natalia Potanina has found justice in an American courtroom in the latest twist in her divorce from Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin. After 30 years of marriage with three children, Ms. Potanina is struggling to locate her husband’s assets so that she can return to Russia and obtain a court order for half of them, in accordance with Russian family law.

A United States federal court judge in Brooklyn has ruled that two American executives for private equity firm Altpoint are compelled to testify with regards to investments made by Mr. Potanin, age 53, and his company Interros.

Interros, a conglomerate headquartered in Moscow, has interests that include mining, finance, agriculture, tourism, energy, retail and real estate.

Chief Financial Officer Eric Chan and Managing Director Yuki Narula have also been ordered to produce 13 categories of relevant financial documents including all emails between them, Mr. Potanin and Interros.

Ms. Potanina told the U.S. Court that her husband warned her that if she did not accept his verbal terms of settlement, she would get nothing from him.

For his part, the billionaire says the couple did not separate a year ago as his wife insists, but seven years ago, and that he has already made his wife a wealthy woman. He also alleges that he and his wife divvied up his assets some time ago, a statement denied by her.

With wealth estimated at $14 billion, Mr. Potanin has a reputation for philanthropy and endorsed Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s “Giving Pledge” promising to give a significant portion of his net worth to the poor in undeveloped countries.

His spokesman recently announced that he had divested himself of most of his assets in order to fulfill his pledge, however, he still has plenty of money for extravagance, as it was reported that he paid $95,000 to a New York restauranteur for a 4 pound white truffle in October last year, the most expensive truffle in the world.

Ms. Potanina’s lawyers say the billionaire’s charitable donations are a scam intended to hide his wealth and deprive his wife of her share.

The parties are scheduled to be in court in Moscow later this month, a hearing that will no doubt be tainted by Russia’s infamous and corrupt judiciary.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge “Friends” Wife While Hearing Her Divorce Case

P1010870 - Version 2She’s a Facebook fan and also a Florida judge who thinks its OK to “friend” a litigant in the middle of her divorce trial. No, I’m not kidding!

Sandra Chace and her husband Robert Loisel had just finished their divorce hearing and were awaiting the Judge’s decision, when Sandra received a request from the Judge to become a Facebook friend.

Ms. Chace immediately contacted her lawyer who recommended she not accept the request, so she ignored it.

Shortly thereafter the Judge handed down her Reasons. To Ms. Chace’s dismay the decision was highly favourable to her husband. Notably, the Judge left her responsible for the majority of the family debt and granted her spouse extremely generous alimony.

After learning this Judge had previously contacted litigants through social media and had been compelled to recuse herself, Ms. Chace’s lawyer brought a motion before her alleging a reasonable apprehension of bias based on her internet overture to his client and his client’s rejection of it.

The protocol for applications alleging bias is to go back to the Judge who made the order and have him or her review the situation.

Several years ago I brought a similar application before a judge in the British Columbia Supreme Court on the basis that his remarks during the hearing could lead a reasonable person to believe he was biased against my client.

At the time I thoroughly researched the law on bias and was not surprised to see that in 99.9% of cases, the judge determined there was no bias. That’s the finding this Judge made as well.

Ms. Chace then appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal who disagreed with the Facebook friendly trial judge. The Appeal Court found that Ms. Chace was caught “between the proverbial rock and a hard place”. She was trapped in a difficult position: Should she respond to the Judge’s ex parte communication or ignore it and risk offending the judge?

The Appeal Judges quashed the order of the trial judge and remitted the matter back to the trial court. Ms. Chace can only hope she does better the second time around.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Who Knew? Abraham Lincoln Was a Divorce Lawyer

Did you know that America’s 16th President was a divorce lawyer? I didn’t, but according to the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War of Middle Tennessee, he was.

And who are they? An organization founded to “Preserve the Memory of the Grand Army of the Republic and our ancestors who fought to preserve the Union 1861-1865″.

The Sons of Union hosted a program in Nashville Tennessee in 2012 that explored how Lincoln’s divorce practice impacted who he was as a leader and offered a glimpse of the society he lived in.

Researcher Stacy Pratt McDermott found that between 1837 and 1861 Lincoln and his three law partners handled 131 divorce cases in 17 Illinois county circuit courts. The state of Illinois was one of the first in America to grant divorces, make custody orders and provide alimony for women.

Grounds for divorce in Illinois included desertion, adultery, habitual drunkenness, repeated cruelty, impotency, bigamy, and felony conviction.

One case in particular reveals Lincoln’s approach to the business of divorce, which he apparently disliked but considered a necessary evil. In Rogers v. Rogers Lincoln was retained to act for Sam Rogers who sought a divorce on the basis of his wife’s desertion and her adultery. Lincoln persuaded his client that he didn’t need to rely on two grounds for divorce and recommended the divorce proceed under the ground of desertion.

The reason Lincoln chose not to pursue a divorce on the basis of adultery was to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment to his client’s wife. His sensitive approach, however, backfired, as his client was ordered to pay $1000.00 in alimony to his wife. Had he also plead adultery, his client would have paid nothing or a nominal amount.

Fortunately for his client Lincoln was able to reverse the alimony ruling and undoubtedly learned a lesson in the process.

Lincoln was not only a great leader and an advocate for the abolition of slavery, but was a sensitive, pragmatic man who practiced law for 25 years. While he handled railroad cases, tax cases and murder cases, his “bread and butter” was divorce law.

Historians now rank him among the top three United States Presidents and his Gettysburg Address on liberty, equality and democracy is one of the most often quoted political speeches.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang