NYC widow gets up to 36 years in prison for husband’s 1990 contract killing

By Jennifer Peltz, AP
Friday, June 4, 2010

NY widow gets prison for 1990 contract slaying

NEW YORK — A widow who had her real estate tycoon husband killed during a harsh divorce but denied it for decades was sentenced Friday to up to 36 years in prison, with one of her sons saying he saw hope in the resolution of the 1990 case.

Barbara Kogan pleaded guilty in April to manslaughter and other charges in the death of her estranged husband, George, who was gunned down on a Manhattan street in a plot that prosecutors said was driven by jealousy and greed. His widow, 67, must serve at least 12 years of her sentence.

Kogan didn’t look at her son Scott, 43, as he reflected on the case in a statement to the court that ranged from anguish to compassion.

“For nearly 20 years, I have suppressed strong thoughts of suspicion” of his mother’s involvement, he said, only to have them prove justified.

But, he said, “I still offer my love and support of a son to his mother,” adding that he saw “newfound room for forgiveness and hope.”

Kogan herself declined to speak with a soft “no” at her sentencing, which closed a case that had haunted not only her family but Manhattan prosecutors for years.

“It is, perhaps, the understatement of the century to say this day has been a long time coming,” said Assistant District Attorney Joel Seidemann, who pursued the case with police from its start.

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

The Kogans were in the throes of a harsh divorce. He had left her for 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 that prosecutors had recordings of her implicating herself while discussing the case with a friend over a jail telephone, according to her lawyer, Barry Levin. He declined to give more detail; prosecutors declined to comment on the recordings.

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 been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has been hospitalized repeatedly, including three times in the past five years, Levin said.

“I don’t say this to excuse this crime … but I bring that out because I don’t think that Barbara Kogan had or has the capability today to think through all of her actions,” Levin told state Supreme Court Justice Roger Hayes.

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 ever been charged, though prosecutors have identified a suspect who is imprisoned on unrelated charges. He denied killing Kogan in a 1998 newspaper interview.

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.

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