Former Altoona attorney accused of forging child custody papers faces charges
By Bill Shannon,2023-06-08
ALTOONA, Pa (WTAJ) — Former Blair County attorney Michael B. Cohen is facing new charges, this time for allegedly forging a judge’s name on fabricated child custody orders, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said.
These new charges come after Cohen was charged in March for allegedly trying to help another client avoid a PFA violation.
In 2020, a husband and wife decided to file for divorce which ultimately led to a custody dispute over their child. It was ordered by a Fayette County judge in late 2020 that the mother was limited from transporting the child to Blair County, documents show.
In February 2021, Cohen allegedly accepted a $5,000 retainer as well as $5,000 for legal fees to represent the mother in the custody case.
According to investigators, Cohen reached out to the mother on Dec. 21, 2022, to tell her a new custody order was issued and it would allow her to have the child during Christmas break, advising that she not communicate with the child’s father. Two days later, Cohen allegedly sent an image of the interim orders to the mother, signed by an out-of-county judge, which turned out to be fraudulent.
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Investigators said that due to Cohen’s legal advice, the mother never returned the child to the father after the break, leading to the father filing a report with Blairsville police.
On February 9, 2023, when a hearing was scheduled in the custody case, Cohen allegedly sent a fax to the judge on his office letterhead saying that he filed a notice of resignation with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. It was noted that Cohen also mentioned an order of disbarment was forthcoming.
According to the affidavit, Cohen allegedly admitted to the forged documents and that he advised the mother to not take the child back to the father. Cohen claimed he was fed up with the case and told the mother what he thought she wanted to hear.
“As a family law attorney and an officer of the court, Mr. Cohen knew better than anyone the seriousness of custody orders and the critical role of attorneys who practice in that field,” said Attorney General Henry. “Through his actions Mr. Cohen not only violated the duty he owed his client, but also the court of law.”
“Mr. Cohen cooperated fully with the AG Office in the investigation of this matter and the resolution of the underlying custody matter,” Cohen’s attorney Dan Kiss told WTAJ. “We maintain no criminal conduct occurred. Any action was to help a client that he believed was being treated unfairly in the custody matter.”
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Cohen is now facing charges of forgery, tampering with records, and obstruction. He was arraigned Thursday morning, June 8, by MDJ Miller and released on $75,000 unsecured bail.
Cohen’s charges have all been waived for court.Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.