Last month, John Cohen was relieved to recover his #44 Team Xtreme race car that was stolen before the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Now Cohen is in trouble of his own: an arrest warrant has been issued over his failure to pay money owed from one lawsuit, right as another lawsuit was filed against him over the purchase of a race car.
According to NBC Sports, Cohen was ordered to pay ex-business partners Anthony Santucci and Jeff Rezink $55,000 in a civil lawsuit settlement in August 2014 over a failed Manhattan nightclub. Santucci and Rezink invested $85,000 in the failed venture with Cohen, but alleged that Cohen never spent that money on the nightclub.
"He obviously just pocketed the money," Santucci explained to NJ.com, as quoted by NBC Sports. "We believe he used the money to fund his NASCAR team."
Per Fox Sports, Cohen allegedly promised Santucci and Rezink 4% ownership of the planned $7 million nightclub in exchange for a $100,000 investment, but the nightclub never materialized.
The NASCAR team certainly did, though. Santucci and Rezink's lawyer, Elliott Malone, told Fox Sports that one of the partners even lent Cohen "a few thousand dollars" to buy tires to run a Sprint Cup race. When the partner never received his repayment, Cohen promised to put $5,000 towards the night club instead.
Likewise, Cohen was never able to secure the liquor license for the night club, despite a contract outlining that this was his responsibility. The money for that, too, was never paid back, even though Cohen was supposed to return that money in the event that he wasn't able to get a liquor license.
Cohen maintains that the warrant is for his father, not him. He explained to NBC Sports that the warrant is for a "John Cohen" located at a different address and his full legal name is "Jonathan Cohen."
"It's a story that's not true. I didn't make the settlement," he explained to NJ.com, as quoted by NBC Sports. "That's not me. That's my father. That has nothing to do with me."
His ex-partners and their lawyer aren't buying it.
"It's my understanding that his father has been dead for some time," Malone told Fox Sports. "There is no question this is him. The team was sued, and the judgment is against him and the team."
Either way, Cohen is confident that his lawyers will be able to work it out and plans to be at this weekend's CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Travis Kvapil will once again drive the number 44 car, even though he failed to qualify for last week's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
According to Fox Sports, it took them six months to serve the initial lawsuit regarding the nightclub's missing funds. They may have an uphill battle arresting Cohen once again because he works out of North Carolina, so a likely next step is to go after Cohen's assets in both New Jersey and North Carolina—including those of Team Xtreme.
"The last thing I want to do is repossess the car that supposedly was stolen and returned," Malone said to Fox Sports.
As for that stolen car, there are already conspiracy theories on the Internet wondering if that wasn't a way for Cohen to make a quick buck, too. Some fans are picking apart photos of the recovered car, claiming that the nose of the car looks a little lighter as if there wasn't an engine in it. Others wonder if the rest of the trailer's contents weren't sold off somewhere, or taken to avoid having to pay for the engines. Tax evasion. Payment evasion. Race use evasion. Kvapil had to sit Atlanta out, too, and leaving the car parked in the shop is a whole lot less expensive than running it for the weekend, hence the classic start-and-park.
You keep doin' your conspiracy thing, Internet. We're not sure if these have any merit, but maybe there's a Black Flag-Black Bag collaboration piece in here somewhere. Regardless, a warrant was issued for the arrest of a person of interest in the truck and trailer theft on February 28. In this case, that person of interest was not John Cohen.
There's no doubt that Team Xtreme is struggling to find cash, though. Take a look at their Twitter account, for example:
Past the theft of the car, it's all been pleas for sponsorship. Such is the life as a smaller team at the back of the grid.
On top of his issues from the nightclub, another lawsuit has been filed against Cohen regarding his use of "unfair and deceptive trade practices" in the purchase of a race car from the now-defunct Swan Racing team. The plaintiffs are seeking $200,000 in damages, per Fox Sports, and it couldn't come at a less opportune time.
There's an old saying in motor racing: the easiest way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a large one. This is especially true of the smallest teams and backmarkers. Whereas the well-known teams have no issues finding sponsors, backmarkers have to work exponentially harder to convince sponsors that they'll get any exposure at all. They're not the teams that get a lot of attention unless they wreck out, get embroiled in controversy or somehow punch above their weight. (The previous two are a lot more common than the latter.)
The TV cameras and commentators simply don't focus on that end of the field. It's an uphill battle.
So, here we are, looking at one team owner accused of taking investment money for something else to put into his race team, among other financial shenanigans.
Being a backmarker is extremely expensive.
Photo credit: Getty Images (car), AP Images (Cohen)