The arrangement drove Patricia crazy, and maybe it would have gotten under anyone’s skin. Steve insisted on being asked for money—or begged, as Patricia saw it—and then expected praise in return. And what he gave was hardly “proportionate,” as she said. She thought her kids were entitled to better. Were they his shabby relations left to daydream about the lavish parties and cushy lives of their half-siblings, like Cinderella dreaming of the ball?
Alex’s son, not even a blood relation, moved into a $3 million apartment in Tribeca. Steve and Alex kept the apartment in their name and offered Patricia’s daughter the same deal, but the daughter declined. She wanted the property in her name. Otherwise it was just one more way to live in the king’s court. Steve refused—he saw it as tough love. He wasn’t going to let his kids live off their father’s success. And also there was the gift tax he’d have to pay, which occurred to him, too.
Still, he wouldn’t let anyone say he ignored his children’s needs. There were years he gave Patricia’s daughter a $100,000 stipend—in 2005, it was $123,000. But a sense of deprivation is deeply ingrained in the kids. The daughter doesn’t even tell anyone that her father is a billionaire. She doesn’t have the money to show for it, so what’s the point?
At times, the struggle with Patricia was unbelievably petty. For Steve, generosity is a complicated impulse. He likes to keep control. He moved Patricia into a new apartment, but shortly after, in a March 22, 2002, letter from his attorneys Bronstein Van Veen, Steve told her that he will only pay for his kids’ “books required specifically in the course syllabus,” adding, “You will be expected to provide the syllabus.” His daughter, a film student at the time, was warned not to buy movies if they could be rented. And then, on June 24, 2002, a letter states, “Mr. Cohen has previously requested and wishes to reiterate that requests should not come directly to him from the children,” as if that would make him uncomfortable.
Patricia and Steve haven’t had a conversation in a decade, a decade in which Steve burnished a reputation as art collector, philanthropist, market genius, and simple Greenwich homebody. But Patricia still believes she knows a deeper truth.
In March 2006, Patricia saw a 60 Minutes segment about her ex-husband that she says finally opened her eyes. Steve had been sued by Biovail, a large Canadian pharmaceutical company that alleged that he plotted to drive down its stock price, which he was betting against. The Biovail suit was later dismissed. Still, in Patricia’s account, the program revealed that Steve was capable of anything. As far back as 1991, she’d accused Steve of hiding his matrimonial finances, but the TV show reawakened her suspicions. She says she felt a sudden duty to the truth, as well as to her financial well-being. And it launched her on an obsessive three-year search into Steve’s business past, involving dozens of calls and tracking down her former husband’s business associates.
In short order, a warning came. Steve planned to continue paying Patricia $9,000 a month, though he would no longer legally owe her a thing. But her snooping had gotten back to him. In October 2007, Patricia says, a message was conveyed through her son: Patricia “should not bite the hand that feeds [her].” Patricia had some savings, but she was in a precarious financial position—and she saw something far more precious than financial security slipping away. Patricia, who’s still single, had devoted her life to her children—it’s her career, as even Steve acknowledged. “[She makes] the children her whole life,“ he wrote, though he didn’t mean it as a compliment. But now they were grown-ups, making their own way. And Steve was insinuating himself back into their lives, throwing money at them, as she saw it (being his usual generous self, as he saw it). He rented an apartment for his daughter in 2006 for about $2,000 a month and bought his son a car at a cost of $32,000.
The kids were still devoted to their mother, but the parental dynamic had shifted, and Patricia felt pushed to her limit. “I no longer have any influence on either of them. I am no longer a parent but a witness,” she wrote in a dramatic October 30, 2007, e-mail to Steve. Patricia was heartbroken by these developments—but also oddly liberated. She told Steve that she was “someone who has nothing at stake,” nothing left to lose, and issued a warning of her own: “If you choose to remember me as someone who is feeble, unintelligent, or lacking tenacity, that would not be correct.”