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NYC human rights officials are 'closely monitoring' allegations against the owner of a gay bar

NBC News previously reported that Michael J. Cohen was accused of unwanted sexual conduct and discrimination. Cohen’s attorney said he is not under investigation.
Michael Cohen
Michael J. Cohen has hosted events that drew some of the world’s most well-known gay celebrities.© Patrick McMullan / PMC

New York City’s Commission on Human Rights says it is “closely monitoring” allegations of sexual misconduct and racial discrimination against Michael J. Cohen, who was long a gatekeeper in the city’s gay nightlife scene. 

NBC News reported last month that nine men had accused Cohen of a range of unwanted sexual conduct, including accusations that he groped or pressured men to have sex or to send nude photos. In addition, NBC News reported that eight people had accused Cohen or staff members of Motel 23, the New York gay bar Cohen owns, of treating some men of color and women differently from white men, including charging them more to enter. Cohen denied the accusations of misconduct and discrimination.

“The Commission is aware of these allegations, as they have been raised by internal and external sources,” Jose Rios Lua, the executive director of communications and marketing at the Commission on Human Rights, said in an email. “We take every allegation seriously and are closely monitoring this issue.”

The closed location of Motel 23
The closed location of Motel 23 in New York on Aug. 22, 2022.Marc J. Franklin / NBC News

Rios Lua confirmed in a phone interview that his statement encompassed all of the allegations against Cohen in NBC News’ reporting, as well as allegations NBC News reported about Motel 23 and other nightclubs where Cohen previously hosted parties. 

Rios Lua added in the email that he could not say whether the commission had opened an investigation. “We are unable to confirm or deny the existence of ongoing investigations as disclosure can interfere with the agency’s law enforcement mission,” he said. 

Rebecca Kaufman, an attorney for Cohen, said in a statement: “There is no investigation by any agency into Mr. Cohen or Motel 23. Mr. Cohen would welcome the unveiling of anonymous sources who falsely accused him and the chance of confronting them in court — no person should be subjected to the guilt-before-innocence presumption he has endured.” 

Motel 23 announced in late July it would be closing for renovations; it has not reopened.

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After NBC News’ article about Cohen was published last month, New York City Council member Erik Bottcher, who represents a swath of Manhattan’s West Side that includes Motel 23’s location and who has been photographed attending parties Cohen has hosted, said in a statement that the “allegations must be fully investigated.” 

Bottcher’s chief of staff, Sean Coughlin, confirmed this month that Bottcher’s office had urged the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct and racial discrimination.

“We will be following up in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that these allegations are investigated thoroughly,” Coughlin said in an email.

The commission confirmed that Bottcher’s office had reached out.

The Commission on Human Rights is tasked with enforcing New York City’s human rights law, which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of race, religion, sex or national origin. 

The commission has the power to levy civil penalties of up to $250,000 and require businesses or people to take other actions, including mandating anti-bias training for managers and employees, according to its website

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