Broke, no bread, I mean like nothing....
Take an iconic artist, mix in missing millions, hints of tantric sex, a lawsuit replete with other salacious details, and a ruptured relationship with a long-time, trusted associate, and you've got the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. Except in the case of Leonard Cohen, it's a true tale, with the bizarre twist of a Tibetan Buddhist suing a Zen Buddhist, Cohen. For the 70-year-old poet, singer and songwriter, it's a nasty, rapidly escalating legal battle that on the one hand accuses him of conspiracy and extortion, and on the other has him accusing both his highly trusted personal manager and long-time financial adviser -- the Tibetan Buddhist -- of gross mismanagement of his financial affairs. The case exposes not only private details of Cohen's finances, but also a dramatic tale of betrayal.- Macleans.ca - A 'devastated' Leonard Cohen
The conflict was triggered last fall when Cohen was tipped off by an insider that a lot of money was missing from his accounts. All that remained of his retirement savings was the $150,000, funds that today he can't get at as a result of the tangled legal web he finds himself in. Greenberg's suit portrays the soulful songwriter as an artist who paid little attention to his financial affairs and so was easily duped by a conniving personal manager. Cohen says he tried quietly, and confidentially, to find out from his various managers where the money had gone. Cohen calls the case "a tragedy," suggesting he was exploited by trusted advisers. He uses words like "greed, concealment, and reckless disregard," and says firmly he did nothing wrong. "I can assure you, within reason, I took every precaution except to question the fidelity of my closest associates."
Wow. I never figured Leonard Cohen to be a millionaire, but thought all those records would have given him a little dough in the nest-oven. Musicians can be too trusting with their loyalties, I suppose.
Within a couple of days, [Cohen] returned to Los Angeles and immediately went to his bank. There he discovered, as he puts it, "improprieties." [Former business manager Kelley ]Lynch had linked her American Express bill directly to his personal chequing account, he says, and just days before his visit to the bank, he'd paid a $75,000 Amex bill on her behalf. He never learned what purchases the card had been used for, but says the credit card company reimbursed him. Cohen immediately removed Lynch's signing powers on the accounts.
The next day, Cohen told Lynch she no longer had access to the bank accounts and he fired her. That afternoon, Cohen says the bank notified him that Lynch went to a different branch and attempted to withdraw $40,000 from one of his accounts. He then called a lawyer and brought in a forensic accounting firm, Moss-Adams, which, in an investigation of all of Cohen's holdings, discovered "massive improprieties." In all, the accountants discovered about $8.4 million had over time disappeared from his holdings, Cohen says. His retirement funds had been virtually depleted.
....This is the mess that Leonard Cohen -- a man many believe floats a few inches above the ground -- finds himself in. These days, he's Zen-like.
In the course of a long interview by phone from his home in Los Angeles, the man sometimes called the poet laureate of pessimism sounded almost bemused. "What can I do?" he asks. "I had to go to work. I have no money left. I'm not saying it's bad; I have enough of an understanding of the way the world works to understand that these things happen."
His first choice of action when he learned his money was gone, he says, was to not do anything. Aware of how painful litigation could be, he says he wanted no part of it. "I said, 'I can walk away with nothing.' I said, 'Let me start again. Let me start fresh at 70. I can cobble together a little nest egg again.' "
But he ran into a glaring, immediate problem: had he done nothing, he would have legally been responsible for the funds that had gone missing. And on that money, he'd owe millions in taxes, a sum he no longer had.
His next step, "his second-best choice," was to negotiate with his advisers about the missing money. He approached Lynch, asking her to open her books. "She resolutely and unconditionally refused to open her books to any scrutiny whatsoever and instead began a bizarre email campaign to discredit me in some kind of way, which has gone all over the place," Cohen says, adding that he's launching a lawsuit this week with great reluctance. "I don't want anybody hurt. It's not my nature to pursue and to contend with people that way."
Cohen says all he wants is to find out where the money went. "I'm not accusing her of theft," he says of Lynch. Still, his countersuit will likely describe how money was removed from his accounts.
Cohen appears to have been blindsided by Greenberg's lawsuit. He insists that he and Kory were in the midst of mediation with Greenberg when the financial adviser's lawsuit was suddenly and unexpectedly filed. He says the mediation had been confidential, at Greenberg's urging, as he feared for his reputation.
In an email to Greenberg, Cohen urges him to make good. "Dear Neal, I believed in you. I depended on you," Cohen wrote in November 2004. "When things went wrong, does it make any sense that you would make your warnings available to the only person in the cosmos who had an interest in deceiving me? A single, simple email informing me that my accounts were being emptied would have been enough. I answered EVERY SINGLE EMAIL you ever sent me. Fortunately, I have them all.
"Face up to it, Neal," the email continues, "and square your shoulders: You were the trusted guardian of my assets, and you let them slip away . . . Restore what you lost, and sleep well." In his sign-off, Cohen delivered as much a piece of advice as his own philosophy: "Put this behind you and it will dissolve."
There's an irony here, that a man who has struggled much of his life to distance himself from the material world now, at 70, finds himself in an intense battle with it. Still, he's not defeated. "This has propelled us into incessant work," he says of himself and Thomas. He exudes optimism about their new CD. "It's one of the best albums I've heard." It's not closing time quite yet.