BECKLEY — At least one criminal charge against former Shady Spring pharmacist Natalie Cochran is expected to be presented to a special grand jury later this month, a trooper with the West Virginia State Police has confirmed.
E.W. Boothe of the Beckley detachment said that he is concluding an investigation into missing funds from Shady Spring Youth Baseball League, a private middle school boys’ baseball league.
Boothe said that it is highly probable that Cochran, who is also facing a state police investigation in the Feb. 11 death of her husband, will face unspecified criminal charges later this month related to the alleged misuse of league funds when she served as treasurer.
“I’m very confident that it will be presented,” Boothe said. “We’ll present it, and I would like to think there will be an indictment.”
Tactical Solutions Group, a company run by Cochran and her husband Michael who were also accused in a federal civil court filing of running a $2.8 million Ponzi scheme, had hosted a bingo game at Shady Springs High School in February for the expressed purpose of supporting the league and the Shady Springs High School girls volleyball team.
Semi-automatic weapons were donated as prizes at the event. Proceeds from the fundraiser, however, never made it to the league account, according to James Quesenberry, a league board member, private investigator and former Beckley Police Department officer.
Of the approximately $32,000 that was raised, Cochran made a $16,680 donation to the league, but the check bounced, Quesenberry said.
Quesenberry is conducting an audit of league finances at the request of the board.
In an interview with The Register-Herald, Quesenberry said other suspicious activity on the account includes a $1,364 debit card charge to Amazon in late January and charges by www.crowdfunder.com, a website that allows online users to invest in businesses.
While his audit is ongoing, one thing is clear, Quesenberry said. Prior to Cochran being appointed treasurer of the league, account activity was infrequent. After her appointment, dozens of transactions – many suspicious – were made.
Cochran had served as treasurer of the league during the same time that she and her husband owned Tactical Solutions Group and Technology Management Solutions (TMS) and had continued serving after Michael’s death, according to Quesenberry.
Michael Cochran, according to Quesenberry, had been a member of the league board but was not authorized to write checks on the league's checking account or use the league's ATM card.
While league guidelines maintained that board members had to vote in order to approve large-item purchases, Quesenberry said, only Cochran and, later, league secretary Laci Treadway were authorized to make purchases from the account.
Quesenberry said that neither Cochran nor Treadway have cooperated with the league audit or provided adequate financial documents to the board.
Quesenberry said the audit shows that there was little activity on the league checking account from May 1, 2018, which is the start date for the audit, to Oct. 24, 2018.
"There were two checks to Spartan's," a sporting goods store, he summarized his findings. "They were actual checks written to Spartan's, which is normal."
On Oct. 24, he said, Tactical made a deposit of $10,000 as a donation to the league board.
"The board was aware she was making the deposit," he said. "(Natalie) made a donation.
"She claimed that it was money left over from a contract of some sort, through (Tactical)."
Shortly after the donation was deposited, a board member reported, a check of around $2,000 was written to Stark Design Group, which the Secretary of State's Office lists as being owned by Treadway and Thomas Treadway of Beaver, followed by a $2,100 check on Dec. 20.
Treadway was not secretary at the time the checks were written and did not have authorized access to the account, according to statements by Quesenberry.
Quesenberry said the Stark receipts are in question because it has not yet been determined if the goods were received.
Stark Design did not respond to a request for comment.
Quesenberry charged that financial records show that from Dec. 7 to Dec. 10, Cochran spent $1,142 without board approval, over a three-day period, to Dunham's and Dick's Sporting goods.
Several deposits, including a deposit for $1,060, were made between Dec. 12 and 20, he added.
The check to Stark Design, for over $2,100, was allegedly written from the account on Dec. 20, and a purchase of $402.60 to Parker Compound Bows came out of the account on Dec. 21.
"As in, bow and arrow," Quesenberry said. "As in, you can't use a bow and arrow playing baseball."
Around $550 in charges to Dunham's and Dick's were written without board approval on Dec. 21, and Quesenberry said state police have filed a subpoena to discover what was purchased.
On Christmas Eve, an unapproved purchase of Yeti cooler items for $2,099 was made at Elevation Sports, a sporting goods store in Beckley.
Between Dec. 31, 2018, and Jan. 11, a few deposits totaling about $1,500 were made into the account.
"Some of that could be parents writing checks for the Stark order, even in full or in part," said Quesenberry. "But they are mobile and ATM deposits."
He said he is still in the process of acquiring records of ATM deposits.
On Jan. 14, he said, an unapproved ATM card purchase to Dunhams for $361 and one to Dick's for $106 was deducted from the account. A deposit was made later that day.
On Jan. 22, an unapproved ATM withdrawal of $281 was made, and one at Olive Garden for $53.
Quesenberry said state police are looking into obtaining video surveillance of ATM machines on the indicated dates.
From Jan. 23 to 28, he said, his audit shows there were several deposits totaling about $1,900.
"Starting in this time, there is much more banking activity," Quesenberry noted. "The banking activity was more and more."
On Jan. 28, Quesenberry said, there was a debit charge by the WVU Athletic Department for $528 for four 2019 baseball season tickets, which the board did not approve, along with an unapproved payment of $85 to Yeti Cooler.
On Jan. 28, there was also an unapproved payment to Amazon for $1,364.
State police may have issued a subpoena to Amazon to determine the exact content of the order, he added.
In early February, Quesenberry said, activity on the account became even more frequent, with a series of deposits totaling around $3,000 on Feb. 5, a $500 ATM withdrawal and a debit memo for $600 on Feb. 6.
On Feb. 8, Quesenberry said, two unapproved ATM debit card purchases to Amazon, one for $525.96 and one for $914.94, appear on the account.
Quesenberry said that, when he called Amazon recently to determine the items purchased, he was told that Amazon would provide the information only under a subpoena, since it was not ordered on a league account with Amazon.
On Feb. 15, a deposit of $8,500 was made, along with an unapproved charge from TJ Maxx for $357 and two unapproved charges by RAE Crowther Company for about $2,000 each for the purchase of football equipment. RAE Crowther is an athletic training equipment company, specializing in football and weight training.
On Feb. 16, an unapproved check was written to Tactical Solutions Group for $4,100 for a "pants and shirts order," said Quesenberry. He added that the team did not receive the pants or the shirts.
On Feb. 17, the investigation showed a deposit for $1,750, followed on Feb. 21 by a $2,000 purchase at RAE Crowther.
On Feb. 22, a $5,500 deposit was made, followed by another unapproved charge to RAE Crowther for $1,090.
On Feb. 25, he said, multiple checks started to "bounce," and the bank started to charge a $36 fee for each.
On March 4, Quesenberry said, an unapproved check for $1,500 was written to Tactical Solutions Group for "Memorial MBC shirts." Quesenberry said the shirts "do exist" but added that it is unclear why the money would have been paid to Cochran's company from the league account.
Quesenberry said the bingo game was heavily attended.
"It was bumper to bumper in there," he said, adding that the league was promised $16,680 after proceeds were tallied.
He said that on March 18, Cochran deposited a $16,680 check from Tactical to the league but that the check bounced. He reported the account was already "in the hole" at the time.
After Cochran made a $2,500 deposit to put the account in the black, she moved the account to a different bank. Any notice of banking activity would then only be sent to her.
In April or May, according to Quesenberry, the board appointed Treadway co-treasurer. He added that later, Cochran classified her on paperwork as a secretary. Treadway also had access to the account following her appointment.
On April 3, he said, an unapproved purchase of $297 was made at Dick's, and an outstanding invoice of $4,300 to Spartan's Sporting Goods for a legitimate league purchase remained unpaid. The invoice has since been paid, Quesenberry said.
On April 5, the audit shows a deposit of $25, and an unapproved AT&T cell phone bill payment of $200, said Quesenberry.
On April 8, he said, Turbo Tax withdrew $174.88 from the account without board approval.
"It could possibly be a tax return for the Youth Baseball, but it is unlikely," Quesenberry reported. "They have no paperwork and don't know if Natalie filed a tax turn for the league, but it had never been done before via (Turbo Tax)."
Also on April 8, two unapproved $500 charges from an online investment website, www.crowdfunding.com, were made. One of the charges was "kicked back" due to insufficient funds, according to Quesenberry.
The audit shows $1,700 in a series of deposits were made from April 11 to April 22, he added, followed by an unapproved ATM withdrawal for $80 on April 22, an unapproved ATM withdrawal of $500 and an unapproved purchases at Elevation Sports, one for $16 and one for $73.
On April 24, he said, an unapproved $329 transfer was made from the league account to Tactical, followed by a second, unapproved transfer to Tactical for $595 on April 26.
On May 2, according to Quesenberry, checks again started to "bounce," including an unapproved draft of $19.25 by GoDaddy. He added that the league does not have a GoDaddy account, which is a website management account.
On May 9, another unapproved crowdfunding charge was returned along with a fee, followed by a second unapproved GoDaddy charge on May 15 or $19.25 and a paid item fee, leaving the account $141.50 in the red.
On May 20, a deposit of $142 was made to the account, followed by a deposit of $500 on June 7.
On June 10, an unapproved $480 ATM withdrawal was made. On June 17, a deposit from Tactical to the league fund was made.
A third GoDaddy charge of $19.25 came out on June 17, he reported, and an unapproved ATM withdrawal was made on June 19 for $420, leaving the league account balance at $31.25.
Quesenberry said that investigators have frozen the account and that the league board has plans, once the account is unfrozen, to close it and restructure.
He said that, to the best of his knowledge, the Shady Spring Youth Baseball League is not facing civil ramifications, due to the alleged mismanagement of the account.
A special grand jury has not yet been scheduled, according to state police.
Raleigh Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Keller on Monday said that under rules governing ethical conduct for prosecutors, she could neither confirm nor deny reports by state police of a special grand jury being called.
Keller also declined to comment on whether her office anticipates that any criminal charges will be filed against Cochran.