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Divorced, Never Separated

Two decades after a divorce, hedge-fund superpower Steve Cohen thought he could live happily ever after with his new wife and Greenwich mansion and $6.4 billion. But that wasn’t the ending to the fairy tale his first wife had in mind.

Illustration by Marcos Chin  

E ven the saddest marriage can begin in perfect happiness. “I know it sounds strange,” Patricia Cohen tells me, “but back then we had a lot in common.” Patricia met her future husband, Steven A. Cohen, who would later be the founder and driving force of the $12 billion hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors and one of the richest men in the world, on a rainy summer evening in 1979. “It was coming down in torrents,” Patricia says, and so she ducked into a restaurant on the Upper East Side. Steve, bold even then, approached her at the bar. Patricia sized him up, and he wasn’t her type. He was a middle-class kid from Great Neck in a decent suit that, she still recalls, didn’t match his brown shoes. He was pleasant-enough-looking, in a Sears-catalogue way: short, with dark hair, a square jaw, big glasses over watery blue eyes, and a trim waist. He proudly told her that at 22, he was already a trader on Wall Street, an achievement that didn’t mean much to her. Patricia, four years his senior, was a working-class girl from Washington Heights who’d transformed herself into a sophisticated West Village woman. She wore a white camisole and a pale, rain-soaked silk skirt that stuck to her lovely legs. She worked at a publishing company, held fervent opinions about literature and theater, toyed with writing a screenplay, and usually dated writers.

Still, the eager junior trader grabbed her attention. “Steve was incredibly sweet,” she says. He wanted to impress her without quite knowing how, and it was endearing. “He just kind of was himself,” she says. They started dating three days later, and in six months they were married. They talked excitedly about how much they wanted a family, and thirteen months after the wedding their first child arrived.

But that was a very long time ago. Patricia, her lawyer, and I are in a restaurant near Lincoln Center on a bleak winter afternoon when she abruptly stops her story. Then I notice: She is crying. “He’s a bully,” Patricia manages. “I’ve been punished for twenty years,” since they divorced. “I just will never understand his anger, the turning on me. It’s really, really, really crazy. It’s so painful to me.”

In December, Patricia took a step toward dealing with her own considerable anger: She filed suit against her former husband, who is now worth $6.4 billion. Patricia demanded $300 million, accusing him of fraud under racketeering statutes—the suit was withdrawn after Patricia changed attorneys, but her new lawyer, Gaytri Kachroo, says she will soon refile. Patricia charged that at the time of their divorce, in 1990, Steve cheated her by hiding assets. But her suit didn’t merely seek financial redress; it was also a stinging personal attack, portraying Steve as not only cheap and deceitful but shady and secretive, a person who 25 years ago might have tried to evade taxes and trade on insider information, suggestions superfluous to the suit’s central claims but which nonetheless made headlines, and at a delicate moment. Steve’s company has been mentioned in connection with stock-manipulation probes, including one by the FBI. Patricia’s suit had affected Steve’s business at a time when he was trying to recruit new investors, no doubt a satisfaction in and of itself. “He’s in the most vulnerable position he’s ever been in,” Patricia wrote in an e-mail shortly before her suit was finalized.

For Patricia, pursuing her ex-husband is a catharsis long in coming. She wants her due—justice is her word for it. But there’s also obsession here, and maybe a kind of madness. For Patricia, the past is present, and now at last she can engage her long-held grievances on a big and public stage. “I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself,” she wrote gleefully in an e-mail as the suit was filed.

Patricia sometimes talks as if she were afraid of a man as powerful as Steve, certain that he has spies and allies everywhere. And yet at other moments, she’s sure she has the advantage. “Having been married to him I know what he’s made of and it’s not much; he’s a coward,” she wrote. “The twisted man is at heart a wimp.”

Whatever he’s made of, Steve Cohen is one of the great money managers of his time, moving markets, mauling giant companies, and returning about 30 percent on average to investors, after subtracting some of the highest fees in the business. He’s got a world-class art collection—Picasso and Cézanne, Koons and de Kooning, spread around his 32,000-square-foot mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he now lives with his second wife. He gives away millions—just last week, North Shore–Long Island Jewish hospital network announced it had named a children’s medical center after Steve and his second wife, Alexandra, following their $50 million gift—and still cultivates a “regular guy” persona, eating hamburgers at the local diner, showing up at sporting events for his and his new wife’s five kids. It’s a blessed life, with one large exception. Her name is Patricia. “She’s a terrorist,” Steve told a friend, “on a mission to make my life a living hell.”