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The Real Deal Los Angeles

LA real estate exec wins $38M award over defamation scandal involving dead turtles, Bernie Madoff

Bradley Cohen cleared his name after 5-year battle with former tenant who set out to smear it
February 24, 2017 01:00PM

Office of Cohen Asset Management, Bradley Cohen (Google Maps/LinkedIn)

A disgruntled former tenant allegedly turned his grievances with his landlord into a more than four year smear campaign involving everything from dead turtles to a sex website, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The victim was Bradley Cohen, CEO of Century City industrial real estate investment firm Cohen Asset Management.

Cohen spent several years and more than $3 million trying to clear his name after a former tenant began smearing it online. He eventually won a judgement of $38.3 million – one of the largest ever internet defamation awards – last year.

The saga began in 2012 when Cohen’s firm sued former tenant Ross Hansen, founder of Seattle metal manufacturing company Northwest Territorial Mint, after Hansen allegedly refused to clean up the environmental mess the company left behind after vacating Cohen’s building in Seattle. The judge sided with Cohen and ordered Hansen to dish out $3 million.

Aggrieved, Hansen allegedly decided to mastermind a plot to ruin Cohen’s reputation – creating a website suggesting Cohen Asset Management was a Ponzi scheme and its CEO was the next Bernie Madoff. Cohen began to lose clients, who were concerned over the allegations.

Investigators hired by Cohen finally connected the defamatory website to Hansen after an email address used to register the site matched an employee of Hansen’s firm, Steven Firebaugh. Investigators knew it was Firebaugh as he used the same information to register at an online “fetish and bondage play destination” and on LinkedIn, according to the Journal.

When confronted, Hansen came clean citing the 2012 lawsuit as the motivating factor – and his dead turtles. Hansen said a pond he’d created at the Seattle property for fish and turtles had been poisoned by another tenant and that his complaints to Cohen had fallen on deaf ears. Cohen said the pond was polluted by Hansen’s own metal fabrication operations.

Hansen’s company Northwest Territorial Mint filed for bankruptcy protection following the judgement. [WSJ] — Subrina Hudson