Natalie Cochran, a licensed pharmacist who has been charged by federal prosecutors in a civil suit with running a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme, is under criminal investigation by the Raleigh County prosecutor's office in the death of her husband, Michael.
According to a Raleigh County government official, who spoke with The Register-Herald on Thursday on the condition of anonymity, investigators are seeking additional information about Cochran's Feb 11 death. According to Natalie Cochran, Michael had suffered a seizure in the couple's home five days earlier, and then hit his head when he fell.
While the State Medical Examiner's office had listed the cause of death as "natural," the county official said that status is likely to be changed soon.
On Thursday evening, Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney Kristin Keller declined to confirm or deny the newspaper's report.
Cochran was caught off guard with the news that she was under criminal investigation.
"I hadn't heard that," she told The Register-Herald Thursday night. "I guess I'll call my attorney and see what he can find out."
Her attorney, Robert Dunlap of Beckley, questioned the investigative process.
"I do not believe Ms. Cochran has not been questioned, been asked to cooperate or been contacted by law enforcement regarding any state allegations of wrongdoing," he wrote in a text to The Register-Herald. "Nor have I received any sort of charging document that would suggest she is a person of interest or actually charged with the commission of a crime."
“Dissemination of a pending and open investigation is highly inappropriate if true and could undermine the evidence to convict.
“One must ask, to what end? What are their motivations to keep Ms. Cochran’s name constantly in the media?” Dunlop wrote. “All I can see that this leaking unsubstantiated information is accomplishing is furthering the vitriol against this women prior to her being brought up on any charges.
“When we read the comments to these articles online, it appears she will effectively be convicted in the court of public opinion and social media before she ever gets charged, much less sees a jury,” Dunlop stated. “Is this what the criminal justice system has devolved into?”
Cochran is the subject of a federal investigation into money laundering and bank wire fraud. Federal prosecutors say that the Cochrans ran a scheme that scammed investors of at least $2.8 million.
The Cochrans were owners of Tactical Solutions Group (Tactical) and Technology Management Solutions (TMS).
On July 23, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart alleged in a civil document that TMS and Tactical, a business that the Cochrans had advertised as a “woman-owned” government contractor that supplied weapons to the U.S. Department of Defense and other entities, were not legitimate businesses.
According to Stuart, the Cochrans solicited investments from unidentified investors but did not have a single government contract. A West Virginia State Police spokesman on Tuesday and a Raleigh County official on Thursday told The Register-Herald that local people had invested in the companies and lost large sums of money.
According to the civil suit, one unidentified person invested more than $407,000 with TMS in June 2017. To date, the investor has seen less than $60,000 in returns on the investment.
Another person, also not named in the document, invested around $467,000 in January 2018 for alleged government contracts. The investor saw a return of about $340,533, Stuart reported.
One investor sank $612,907 into Tactical Solutions, starting in September 2018. Federal investigators said that individual has seen no return on investment.
Stuart alleges that, in 2017 and 2018, the couple spent investors’ funds on dining out, purchasing real estate and keeping up a show of luxurious living.
Meanwhile, weapons were not sold to the U.S. government, Stuart stated in the document.
On July 24, one day after being charged in the civil suit, Cochran filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, listing assets of $397,000 with liabilities of $1.4 million. She listed her current monthly income as $502 in food stamps.
Among the 29 debts and creditors listed in the filing, were $445,000 to LCF Group (a financing firm), $250,000 to Premier Bankcard, nearly $134,000 in student loans, $81,621 to CAMC HFS (a health care collection service), $17,515 to Duke Health, $15,590 to Sunset Memorial Park, $13,533 to Citi Cards, $8,329 to Raleigh General Hospital, nearly $5,000 in six different claims to the Sheriff of Raleigh County, and a variety of other amounts less than $10,000.
Tactical donated semi-automatic rifles as bingo prizes for a Feb. 9 fundraiser at Shady Spring High School to benefit Shady Spring High volleyball and Shady Spring Youth Baseball.
It was unclear Thursday if the bingo players had actually received the weapons they won. A flyer for the game said the weapons were to be collected outside of the school, following background checks.
Tactical also donated a trailer to Shady Spring Middle School.
In an interview with The Register-Herald on Wednesday, Cochran said when her late husband had a seizure at their home on 4-H Lake Road five days before his death and that she had immediately called for help. She said that a physician’s assistant and a State Trooper had come to the house to transport Michael. A family friend, Chris Davis, who served as Michael’s medical power of attorney along with Natalie, also came to the house, she said.
Cochran said her husband died at Bowers Hospice House.
The Raleigh County official said Davis is not considered a suspect in Michael’s death.
In the interview with the newspaper, Cochran said that her husband had been hospitalized twice in the three months immediately prior to his death for an unidentified illness.
“The (rumor) that he died at home is incorrect,” she said. “And the fact that people are saying he died with just me, that’s incorrect.
“Somebody was at our house that whole time,” she reported. “We had two first responders at the house within 20 minutes of his seizure.
“We had a physician’s assistant and a state trooper at the house within 20 minutes of his fall.”