Posted on Wed, Mar.

21, 2007

Cab driver held in swindle of wealthy antiques dealer
Prosecutors say running errands turned to bank and mail fraud totaling more than $600,000.
By MARK MORRIS The Kansas City Star

Ringling Dan Cohn drove a Kansas City taxi and owned little more than a 1986 conviction for armed robbery in Illinois. That changed in 2003 when a wealthy antiques dealer with an apartment near the Country Club Plaza became one of Cohn’s regular fares. Federal prosecutors now allege that Cohn took charge of Griffith Coombs’ assets and swindled him out of more than $600,000 before his death in 2005 at age 87. On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered Cohn jailed pending his trial on bank and mail fraud charges. Cohn, 55, has pleaded not guilty. Coombs was a lifelong Kansas City resident who never married and had no close family. A specialist in European antiques, Coombs had “several million dollars” in assets, prosecutors said. According to his obituary, Coombs maintained a home in Vienna, Austria, for many years and, as a young man, played professional tennis and traveled extensively in Europe. The unlikely pair met when Cohn began driving Coombs for errands, such as trips to the bank or restaurants, according to federal court records. In June 2003, Coombs fell on the Plaza, was hospitalized and then admitted into the Bishop Spencer Place care facility. According to court records, Cohn visited often, telling Bishop Spencer managers that he was Coombs’ “caretaker.” Bishop Spencer staff and employees of Coombs’ bank soon became concerned that Cohn was trying to control his finances, court records show. In August 2004, Cohn moved Coombs out of the care center and into the basement bedroom of a home in the 1400 block of East 76th Terrace that Cohn shared with his girlfriend. During this period, Coombs also signed documents naming Cohn as the beneficiary of his will, giving Cohn the authority to sign legal documents in his name and adding Cohn as a signatory on his bank accounts, records say.

Cohn had told a federal judge in 2000 that he made about $1,500 a month as a taxi driver. But in late 2004 and early 2005, he paid more than $87,000 for a 2004 Hummer H2 and a 2005 Chrysler 300. Detectives said at a hearing Monday they found the house on East 76th Terrace full of new furniture and big-screen TVs during a search in 2005. Kansas City Police Detective Deb Panuco testified that Cohn and his girlfriend, Patricia Foreman, had lost more than $150,000 gambling at local casinos. Called to the stand, Foreman acknowledged that she had accompanied Cohn to the casinos, but said she did not know where he obtained their gambling money. The state removed Coombs from the home in September 2005. Confused and in poor health, he died two weeks later in a hospital. Cohn’s defense lawyer asked this week that he be released on bond, saying he has no incentive to leave the area. She said Cohn currently is working on civil lawsuits in Jackson County that could bring him $2.6 million from Coombs’ estate. To reach Mark Morris, call (816) 234-4310 or send e-mail to mmorris@kcstar.com.