A 23-year-old Sherman Oaks man was sentenced Monday to two years in state prison on a cocaine charge despite a plea for leniency from his cousin, Los Angeles school board member Roberta Weintraub.
Weintraub said outside the courtroom that she was taking a “big risk” speaking publicly on behalf of a convicted drug dealer, but “he’s family, and if you can’t support your family . . .”
As the Board of Education member representing the East San Fernando Valley, Weintraub has supported establishment of drug and alcohol prevention programs on school campuses and has pushed for harsher penalties for students who take drugs and weapons to school.
The defendant, Steven Zachary Cogen, pleaded guilty in May to one count of possessing cocaine for sale.
Acting on a tip from an informant who said Cogen was selling drugs from his Magnolia Boulevard apartment, police searched it in January, 1984, and found 65.3 grams of cocaine in Cogen’s safe, according to court records. When cut and distributed, the cocaine could have been sold for nearly $20,000, Deputy Dist. Atty. Karen Rizzo said.
In a letter and a personal appearance in Van Nuys Superior Court, Weintraub urged Judge Darlene E. Schempp to send Cogen to a rehabilitation facility rather than to prison.
“While there can never be any excuse for Zachary’s behavior, neither, in my opinion, is anything to be gained by incarcerating Zachary in an institution,” Weintraub wrote the judge. “He is a scared, frightened person who desperately needs psychiatric help and drug counseling.”
Schempp rejected the pleas of Weintraub and other relatives and friends of the defendant, saying: “My responsibility is to see that drug dealers are off the street.”
Cogen, a real estate agent and part-time actor, faced a maximum of four years in prison.
‘Serious’ Drug Problem
In court documents, Cogen was described by counselors as having a “serious substance-abuse problem,” primarily involving intravenous use of cocaine.
Calling Cogen’s drug use “terrible, horrible and miserable,” Weintraub said she believed he would benefit from confinement in a one-year live-in rehabilitation program. If Cogen were to violate his probation by failing to complete the program, Weintraub said, she would then support his being sent to prison.
Weintraub said she became aware of the case six weeks ago, when Cogen’s mother, who is Weintraub’s aunt, consulted her.
“I know a lot about troubled kids, and he was one,” Weintraub testified. “There isn’t a family out there that isn’t affected by drugs today. Not one.”