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Everyone knows or has met someone who is able to get seemingly impossible things done, from finding some luxury item in the middle of nowhere, to persuading someone to do something out of the ordinary, often against their better judgment.
A shortcut, a tip, the man with the inside track. Stephen Cohen is that person.
An easy manner, a splash of charm, the ability to read people instantly and a very, very quick mind is what you need if you are to make a living conning people out of their possessions. But they are all as nothing without the right knowledge and careful planning. Stephen Cohen possesses an extraordinary ability to acquire snippets of information and then weave them together to create an entirely different, and entirely convincing, picture about what is happening or has just happened.
It makes him an extraordinary storyteller, and he will literally tell you tale after tale for hours. He will tell you about meeting Bill Gates. "I know him. I went to Comdex one year - I arrived on the Tuesday and I couldn't get a badge because it was late, around 5.30 p.m. There were some old farts on security, about 65, so I just walked in. And I saw a group of people watching big screen TV but with the sound turned off. So I walked up to this guy, introduced myself and started talking."
He will tell you about his Rolls Royce: "It was a 1979 Silver Cloud. But I remember the insurance company asked me for the horse power of the car because it wasn't listed anywhere, so I wrote to Rolls Royce's headquarters in England saying 'What is the horsepower of my car, I need to know for my insurance company' and they wrote me a letter back. It contained one word: 'sufficient'."
He will tell you about charming the most beautiful woman in the world in a lift in Nicaragua. He will leave pregnant pauses in an intriguing story about how a Caribbean plane due to take off returned to a terminal to let on several mysterious American-speaking men dressed exactly alike. Whatever the subject, whatever the country, whatever the moment, Stephen Cohen has a story to tell about it. And every story has in it a kernel of truth, a fascinating snippet that he has picked up from somewhere that he then weaves a tale around.
But while this most human of gifts makes Stephen Cohen a great man to chat to, it is also the basis of his criminal enterprise. He has learnt that if you talk to someone long enough they will relax and be more likely to break confidences. The sheer amount of time he spends talking on the phone is extraordinary. He has new phone lines installed in every place he lives; he has become an expert on the latest technology that runs calls over the Internet; when in jail he made literally dozens of phone calls every day. Stephen Cohen was born with a phone attached to his ear.
This mastery of the phone and ability to draw out secrets achieves remarkable results. Cohen would often taunt Kremen by calling him up and providing small details of Kremen's legal tactics, often just hours after they had been discreetly prepared.