Former prosecutor talks decision to unseal warrants in Madalina Cojocari case

Madalina, now 12, was last seen publicly getting off a school bus in Cornelius on Nov. 21.
To be clear, police have not linked her case to human trafficking.
Published: Jul. 20, 2023 at 11:47 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2023 at 11:48 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - WBTV is digging deeper into the newly unsealed warrants connected to the search for Madalina Cojocari.

It’s been nearly eight months since Madalina, now 12, was last seen getting off a school bus in Cornelius shortly before Thanksgiving. A couple of weeks later, a woman reported seeing the child at a Sugar Mountain grocery store, according to the warrants.

This was the same time she was officially reported missing – and a day before her parents were arrested.

“Any time we get a report like this, we want to take it serious, look into it, pass it along to where it needs to go to,” Sugar Mountain Police Chief Casey Turbyfill said.

The chief said the photos and information his officers gathered were sent to the Cornelius Police Department.

That tip wasn’t made public until unsealed documents were released in the case recently, so WBTV went to a former federal prosecutor about the case.

“Investigators probably had some pretty difficult conversations among themselves whether to release those images and that information to the public,” said Beth Greene, a former federal prosecutor for the Western District of N.C. and current partner at the law firm of Flannery Georgalis.

According to court documents and an incident report from Sugar Mountain Police, a woman reported seeing Madalina with a male relative on Dec. 16 at a Lowes Foods store. That information was never shared with the public until now.

“On the one hand, you have a sighting of Madalina in another part of the state and so you have to say, ‘If we release this information, could folks in this part of the state have been on the lookout for her?’ You know, could it have led to more public sightings and reporting in her being located,” Greene said.

Greene believes investigators struggled with this information for some time – and with good reason.

“From an investigative standpoint, if you’re an investigator, perhaps you’re having this debate of, well, if we release these surveillance videos, first of all, are they convinced it was her or are they releasing bad information to the public?” she said.

The former prosecutor said with police looking into the sighting in Sugar Mountain, investigators could have tipped off potential suspects with the risk of losing information.

Another possible concern for investigators is if they are putting Madalina in danger if the person that she is with did purchase or kidnap her, according to Greene.

She added investigators likely lack evidence to bring more charges against Madalina’s mother and stepfather and says they’re looking for the smoking gun in clues to help solve this case.

Greene said information released in the new documents shows the case is very active and investigators believe mother Diana Cojocari and stepfather Christopher Palmiter may be involved in her disappearance. They were both previously arrested and charged with failure to report the disappearance of a child.

Search warrants revealed investigators have combed through phone records, bank records and social media accounts, and used a jail informant to gather information.

The search warrants also reveal a theory Madalina may have been sold for money by her stepfather.

Related: Warrants reveal Madalina Cojocari’s mother floated ‘theory’ she was given away for money

WBTV asked Greene why the courts decided to release the documents now.

“My guess is that investigators informed the court that there was no purpose to be served under the statute,” Greene said. “There have to be legitimate, investigative reasons to keep search warrants sealed, and those reasons must no longer exist.”

The former prosecutor was shocked to learn the court released information about a jail informant housed with Palmiter, and shocked both parents talked freely about Madalina during jail calls.

Madalina weighs about 90 pounds and was last seen wearing jeans, pink, purple and white Adidas shoes, and a white T-shirt and jacket.

Anyone with information about Madalina is asked to call the Cornelius Police Department at 704-892-7773 or the FBI at 1-800-Call FBI.