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Man who damaged cars at Massey Collision will have to pay restitution

Insurance companies might have to take Daniel Charles Cohen to court to get money back

September 28, 2010|By DON AINES

A Hagerstown man convicted of damaging cars at the Massey Collision Center in 2009 will have to pay more than $21,000 in restitution to his victims, but two insurance companies that paid out more than $137,000 in claims might have to recover their money through civil court.

Daniel Charles Cohen, 24, is serving a five-year prison sentence for theft and second-degree burglary for breaking into Massey Collision Center on York Road in Halfway on Jan. 4, 2009, court records show. He pleaded guilty to the charges July 9, 2009, but was in Washington County Circuit Court last week for a restitution hearing.

Cohen and another man broke into the business and damaged several vehicles and the building, according to the statement of probable cause filed by the Washington County Sheriff's Office. Several vehicles in the building were rammed into each other and the building was damaged, the statement said.

Charges against the other man were dismissed, court records show.

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Cohen was in court Thursday for a restitution hearing with Assistant State's Attorney Leon Debes arguing before Circuit Judge Daniel P. Dwyer that Cohen should be responsible for repaying both the uninsured losses sustained by the victims and the losses to the insurance company.

"A victim is presumed to have the right to restitution," Debes told Dwyer. Courts can order restitution to insurance companies, and to not do so sends a message that "it's OK to steal from a large corporation because they can afford it," Debes said.

"Mr. Cohen ... took it upon himself to play bumper cars with other people's property," Debes said.

If making restitution means Cohen "has to sleep on his brother's couch for the next 20 years ... the state is not going to shed a tear," Debes said.

"To characterize the insurance companies as victims" is contrary to the law, Assistant Public Defender Charles Bailey argued. For insurers, losses are a cost of doing business, he said. The two companies in questions had more than $6 billion in surpluses between them in 2009, he said.

Requiring Cohen to repay nearly $16,000 in restitution as a requirement of his probation would almost guarantee that Cohen would violate probation for nonpayment, Bailey said.

Cohen testified he has no financial resources, no high school diploma, no job skills and no prospects for employment when he is paroled.

Dwyer ruled that Cohen must pay the $21,000 in uninsured losses during 10 years of probation and made a civil judgment in favor of the insurance companies for the $137,000.

Repaying the insurance companies will not be a condition of Cohen's probation, Bailey said later. If the insurance companies want to recover their money, they will have to do so through the civil court system, not in criminal court, he said.

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