Lawyer: NYC widow had been taped on jail phone discussing husband’s 1990 contract killing

Friday, June 4, 2010

Widow faces sentencing in 1990 contract slaying

NEW YORK — A widow who for decades denied arranging her real estate tycoon husband’s slaying admitted it after learning that prosecutors had incriminating tapes of her talking on a jail telephone, her lawyer said.

Barbara Kogan pleaded guilty in April to manslaughter and other charges in the October 1990 death of her estranged husband, George, in a plot that prosecutors say was driven by jealousy and greed. His widow, now 67, faces up to 25 years in prison at her sentencing, set for Friday.

“Barbara has lived with this stress from the investigation” since the days after her husband’s death, her lawyer, Barry Levin, said in an interview Thursday.

She quickly came under suspicion after her 49-year-old husband was gunned down on a street outside his mistress’ upscale Manhattan apartment building on Oct. 23, 1990.

The Kogans were in the throes of a harsh divorce. He was involved with a woman 20 years his junior, a publicist the couple had hired to promote an antiques business. And the widow collected about $4.3 million in life insurance after his death.

The investigation stretched from Manhattan to Puerto Rico, where the couple had lived for years.

But the case stalled, in part because prosecutors were looking to elicit information from a now-convicted accomplice who was incarcerated in Mexico on unrelated charges.

Even after he was extradited and convicted and Kogan herself was indicted in 2008, she insisted she had nothing to do with the slaying.

Then, as her trial loomed this spring, she and her lawyer learned about the recordings of her implicating herself while discussing the case with a friend, Levin said. He declined to give more detail but said the calls spanned various points during the roughly 18 months Kogan had been held awaiting trial.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about the Kogan case Thursday. A message left at a possible phone number for Kogan’s confidante wasn’t immediately returned.

While the taped phone calls seemed likely to complicate her defense, Kogan also considered the toll a trial could take on her and her family, Levin said. She has a history of mental illness that has required several hospitalizations, he said, declining to discuss her condition in detail.

“She didn’t feel she could put herself through the stress of a trial” and knew her two adults sons might be called to testify, Levin said. “She did not want to put her children through that.”

The scion of a wealthy family that owned department stores in Puerto Rico, George Kogan met his wife while both were college students in New York. They spent much of their marriage in Puerto Rico, where for a time he owned a San Juan resort and casino, among other properties.

They returned to New York in 1987, bought a Fifth Avenue apartment and opened an antiques store, Kogan & Co.

The marriage faltered, and the two began divorce proceedings. The split became fraught with friction over money and Barbara Kogan’s resentment of her husband’s new love, prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, Kogan met Manuel Martinez, an attorney who would later be convicted of helping her hire a hit man.

A week before the shooting, she called the couple’s life insurance company to confirm she was the sole beneficiary of her husband’s policy, one of the company’s lawyers testified at Martinez’ 2008 trial.

Then Kogan and Martinez flew to Puerto Rico and borrowed money to pay a contract killer, prosecutors said.

No gunman has never been charged.

Martinez, 60, was convicted of charges including murder, though he maintained his innocence even at his sentencing. He’s serving 25 years to life in prison.

Barbara Kogan didn’t testify at Martinez’ trial, but information that emerged there helped prosecutors build their case against her. She was indicted about seven months after his conviction.

“She was a very angry woman, and, perhaps, she had a right to be,” Assistant District Attorney Joel Seidemann, who pursued the case from its 1990 beginning, said at her arraignment. “But when that anger became so overwhelming, she decided to litigate the divorce through the bullets of a gun.”

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