Steve Cohen Pays Millions in Philanthropy, but a Billion in Legal Penalties

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November 8, 2013; Fortune

Steven A. Cohen (no relation) will be paying $1.2 billion in fines as a result of insider trading at his firm, SAC Capital Advisors. Cohen isn’t simply an executive of SAC; he owns all of it.

Cohen is also a philanthropist. He is a member of the board of the Robin Hood Foundation, where his board colleagues include such Wall Streeters as Laurence Fink of BlackRock, Barry Sternlicht of Starwood Capital, David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, and Paul Tudor Jones II of Tudor Investment—along with celebrities such as NBC News anchor Brian Williams and CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker. Unlike Cohen, the other Wall Streeters on the Robin Hood board aren’t shelling out a billion as part of a guilty plea.

Fortune notes $256 million given away by the Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen Foundation during the past decade to hospitals, museums, universities (especially Brown, where Cohen is on the board of trustees), and of course the Robin Hood Foundation. The latter has received $80 million from Cohen.

Others have gotten big money, too. Since 2003, the Rye Country Day School in Westchester County, a private school attended by some of Cohen’s daughters, has received what looks like almost $4 million from Cohen’s eponymous family foundation. Other major grant recipients include Achievement First, a charter school management company that received well over $5 million from the Cohens between 2007 and 2011; the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Connecticut, where twin daughters of Cohen have been pupils, receiving nearly $4 million in recent years; and $1 million to Michelle Rhee’s StudentFirst Institute in 2011.

Cohen can afford the penalty, as well as the philanthropy. He is worth about $9.4 billion, ranking in the top 40 to 50 wealthiest billionaires in the nation. But the nonprofit institutions receiving six- and seven-figure grants from Cohen don’t seem to be willing to forego his philanthropic largesse, regardless of his guilty plea. Some of the recipients, when contacted by Fortune, expressed no desire to turn back past grant funds, much less turn down future Cohen grants.

A statement distributed on Cohen’s behalf indicated that Steve and Alexandra expect to increase their philanthropic giving, regardless of SAC’s guilty plea. It is a tried and true technique used by big money types in the past to improve their post-conviction images by making even more charitable distributions, assuming they, like Cohen, can afford to do it. Not many nonprofits receive millions in grants from a financial player like Cohen, who will pay out a fortune in legal penalties. Should nonprofits be concerned with accepting “tainted money” from a “felonious philanthropist”?—Rick Cohen