Woman bilked friends in cancer scam, prosecutors say

Former Raven Mike Flynn was one of her benefactors

she faces trial in March

  • Lisa Hoppenstein Cohen faces trial on March 10 in a theft case involving charges that she fraudulently obtained at least $10,000 from friends by claiming that she was dying of cancer.
Lisa Hoppenstein Cohen faces trial on March 10 in a theft case…
January 12, 2011|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

A 41-year-old Pikesville woman was ordered Wednesday to stand trial March 10 on charges that she obtained $10,000 from Mike Flynn, the former Ravens player, by fraudulently claiming that she was dying of cancer. It is the second such case to be tried in Baltimore County in a year.

Lisa Hoppenstein Cohen, a mother of two and the wife of a chiropractor, told friends and acquaintances — including Flynn and his wife, Mary — that she had terminal cancer and needed money to pay for medical treatment, according to prosecutors. People who gave her money recalled her claiming that one of her arms was going to be amputated.

"This woman is a real piece of work," Flynn, an offensive lineman who left the Ravens in 2008, said by telephone from his home in Boston. He said Cohen had "lied about cancer to get money" and that he wanted to "warn people in the future about this woman."

When asked outside a Towson courtroom on Wednesday whether she had cancer, Cohen said, "Nothing's been proven." Cohen, who appeared to be healthy, added that she had worked for Flynn and that he "owed me the money."

Prosecutors said they would proceed with Cohen's prosecution in the Flynn case, despite a judge's ruling earlier Wednesday that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the defendant intended to steal from another couple, Jeffrey and Wendi Davis. The couple, who met Cohen in May 2009, said they had given her a short-term $10,000 loan after she claimed in a tearful phone call that she was about to be evicted from her apartment.

"Lisa told us she had cancer — that's what she told everyone," Wendi Davis said in an interview. Her husband added that they were "appalled" by the news and "wanted to do what we could to help" Cohen with her expenses. Months later, Jeffrey Davis said, Cohen pretended to repay them with a check drawn "on a long-closed account," ultimately replacing it with another check, also worthless.

But Baltimore County Circuit Judge Susan M. Souder was unconvinced by a prosecutor's argument that Cohen had committed "theft by deception," and said she could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Cohen meant to permanently deprive the Davises of their money, a key element in a theft case.

After the hearing, Wendi Davis said only partly in jest that because of the experience, she is no longer a "bleeding heart" who helps people, but a "cynic and a skeptic."

Her husband, an accountant, said he had "always doubted" Cohen's claims of suffering from cancer: "There were no outward signs. She looked fine. She never lost her hair. But there is no doubt that we gave her this money to help her pay her bills because she said she had cancer."

Cohen also faces trial Feb. 18 in a drunken-driving case that involves eight charges, including leaving the scene of an accident. According to the police report, she was found to have 21/2 times the legal limit of alcohol in her system when she hit another car, twice, on March 10 outside a Target store in Pikesville.

In October, a 38-year-old Rosedale woman, Dina Perouty Leone, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to a count of felony theft in a case similar to Cohen's. A prosecutor said Leone had falsely claimed to be dying of cancer and "ripped off person after person" to pay for nonexistent treatments. Two of her victims had each lost a parent to cancer before they went to Leone's aid.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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