As former Ravens player Mike Flynn watched with his wife in a Towson courtroom, a judge gave a suspended five-year prison sentence Thursday to a Pikesville woman accused of obtaining $10,000 from the ex-offensive lineman by falsely claiming to need treatment for terminal cancer.
Lisa Hoppenstein Cohen, 41, the wife of a chiropractor and the mother of two, was also given three years of supervised probation and must repay the Flynns. She began that process outside the courtroom, doling out $2,000 in cash to Flynn, who then counted it. Cohen was ordered to pay the rest of the money before the conclusion of her probation.
"This is a mother who would stand in front of a child and lie about needing a bone-marrow transplant," Mary Flynn, the former Raven's wife, told Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II. She said Cohen, a neighbor, had befriended her and sometimes helped out with Flynn's own two children — one of them now 4 years old, the other 20 months — which helped the women bond.
With the benefit of hindsight, Flynn said, "I know for a fact that this was a professional hit," a deliberate attempt to take advantage of their "celebrity status."
When asked by the judge whether she wished to address the court, Cohen apologized to the Flynns and blamed her behavior on "alcohol, pills and cocaine." She said she has been clean for 14 months with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.
"I did not set out to be a professional," Cohen said, referring to Flynn's comment about being targeted. "I set out to be a friend, and I took advantage of that friendship. What I did was wrong."
Cohen's comments Thursday were in marked contrast to her assertion in January that she had worked for Mike Flynn, that he "owed me the money" and that she would be exonerated.
The judge also sentenced Cohen on Thursday in a separate matter, a drunken-driving case that initially involved eight charges, including leaving the scene of an accident. Police said Cohen was found to have a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit when she hit another car, twice, on March 10, 2010, outside a Target store in Pikesville. Turnbull gave her a six-month suspended sentence, plus 18 months of supervised probation.
In the felony theft case involving the Flynns, the judge said that although Cohen's conduct had been "reprehensible," he looked upon her efforts at rehabilitation and restitution more favorably than those of Dina Perouty Leone, a 38-year-old Rosedale woman he sentenced in October to 15 years after she admitted to stealing from several people in similar cancer scams. Cohen could have received the same 15-year term on the felony theft charge to which she pleaded guilty.
The Flynns said Cohen's actions were all the more jarring because their families have experienced cancer firsthand. Both of Mike Flynn's parents have battled cancer, he said. Mary Flynn's father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and she lost an aunt to ovarian cancer.
"To have someone going around saying they have a disease they don't have, it affects people's lives," said Mike Flynn, who had flown in for the sentencing with his wife early Thursday from Boston, where they now live. "That's not something you lie about."
His wife agreed, calling it "morally deviant." Cohen, she said, "can apologize all she wants, but the trust is gone."
Now, when people ask them for money, Mary Flynn said, "we're going to have our eyes wide open."