$38 Million Award for Online Defamation

     LAS VEGAS (CN) – A federal judge awarded one of the largest Internet defamation awards ever – $38 million – to a Los Angeles businessman whom the Northwest Territorial Mint and its owner accused of running a Bernard Madoff-type Ponzi scheme.
     After a seven-day jury trial in February, U.S. District Judge James Mahan on March 1 ordered the mint and its owner Ross B. Hansen to pay $38 million to Bradley Cohen and Cohen Asset Management, a real estate firm that has bought and sold more than 100 commercial and industrial properties.
     Mahan ordered Hansen to pay $18 million in damages and punitive damages and Northwest Territorial Mint to pay $9 million in damages and punitive damages for fraud, oppression and malice; and Hansen to pay another $7.5 million, and the mint another $3.5 million, for false light invasion of privacy.
     Co-defendant Steven Earl Firebaugh must pay $300,000 in compensatory damages.
     In his Aug. 8, 2012 lawsuit, Cohen said Hansen and the mint retaliated after a court ordered them to pay $3 million for lease violations, including environmental contamination, on a lease property in Auburn, Wash. The property was owned by a company affiliated with Cohen, which sued Hansen and the mint in 2010.
     Hansen and the mint retaliated by publishing several websites using Cohen’s name, comparing him to convicted Ponzi criminal Bernie Madoff, and falsely accusing him of being the Bradley Cohen who was convicted of fraud in Philadelphia in the early 1990s.
     That Cohen has a different middle name and is younger, and a check of news articles and court records would show it was not him, Cohen said in his 2012 lawsuit.
     Cohen’s attorney, Robert Mitchell of Phoenix, said the defamatory attacks took a toll on Cohen and his business for four years before they prevailed in court. He told the Las Vegas Review Journal the award is one of the largest ever for Internet defamation.
     Madoff is serving 150 years in federal prison for running the largest Ponzi scheme in history.
     The Northwest Territorial Mint produces custom products such as commemorative coins and medallions, and was founded in 1984. Its website lists a physical address in Dayton, Nev. and a mailing address in Auburn, Washington.
     Neither Hansen nor the mint responded to an email request for comment.
     Mitchell has moved to a different law firm and could not be reached for comment before this article went to press.

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