Neil Cohen, a New Jersey lawyer who served for 16 years in the state Assembly, pleaded guilty Monday to endangering the welfare of a child by distributing child pornography, a second-degree crime that will send him to prison and most likely get him disbarred.
Cohen, 59, admitted to Mercer County Superior Court Judge Gerald Council that he viewed child pornography images on a computer in his 20th District legislative office in Union Township and printed copies that he put in the desk of a female receptionist.
The plea agreement calls for Cohen to be permanently barred from public employment or elected office, and he will be required to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.
He will be sentenced on July 12, and state Attorney General Paula Dow says she will recommend a five-year prison term. "Mr. Cohen, through his actions in viewing and distributing child pornography, linked himself to an abhorrent industry that preys on children," Dow said.
Cohen is also likely to be disbarred, the usual discipline in New Jersey for a lawyer convicted of a crime reflecting bad moral character.
The attorney general and the state police began investigating Cohen in July 2008, after Sen. Raymond Lesniak and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, who shared his office, reported to legislative authorities that an office staff member had found a computer printout of a nude child. Investigators removed Cohen's state-owned computer and found multiple images of child pornography during a six-month review.
On July 24, Cohen was hospitalized and placed under psychiatric care. He resigned his assembly office on July 28.
Cohen was indicted for second-degree official misconduct, second-degree reproduction and distribution of child pornography, and fourth-degree possession. He faced up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts. In the plea deal, the state dropped the official misconduct charge and three of four child pornography counts.
Cohen, admitted to practice law in 1978, was with the Middlesex County public defender's office from 1979 to 1981, when he formed Gill & Cohen in Montclair, N.J., with state Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex.
Cohen served on the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders from 1988 to 1990. He was elected to the state assembly for the 1990-91 term and then served from 2004 until his 2008 resignation. He was the Union County Democratic chairman in 1991 and 1992.
Cohen was represented by Daniel McCarthy of Rogut McCarthy Troy in Cranford, N.J., and Mark Tuohy of Vinson & Elkins in Washington, D.C. They did not return calls about the case, nor did Gill.
New Jersey Deputy Attorneys General Christine Hoffman and Anthony Picione, who are chief and deputy chief, respectively, of the Corruption Bureau in the Division of Criminal Justice, represented the state.