The long con of Jeff Cochran is over. Cochran was arrested in Jamestown, Mich., on Wednesday afternoon following his mother's funeral.
Evelyn Cochran passed away Nov. 6 at 69 after a battle with cancer. A memorial service was held Tuesday with the graveside service a day later at 2 p.m. local time. Cochran was apprehended after the service at approximately 3 p.m., according to multiple sources.
Cochran was wanted in several states, including Nebraska and Pennsylvania, on theft charges. In multiple cases, Cochran posed as a doctor, who claimed he was helping a local hospital and said hospital would be paying for his short-term lodging. At Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Cochran identified himself as a heart surgeon who also happened to be a golf pro. The hotels never verified Cochran's story, and Cochran checked out each time before the hotels could receive payment.
The 41-year-old Michigan native first came on my radar last Thanksgiving, when a story featuring Cochran ran on the conservative website The Blaze. Cochran claimed he was a pro golfer on the verge of his big break onto the PGA Tour, but whose progress may have been stymied by a sponsor, Nebraska Golf Card, who supposedly ended their relationship because Cochran supported the politics of Texas senator Ted Cruz and Glenn Beck, one of the site's founders. Several aspects of the story simply didn't make sense, and I looked into his claims. None of them panned out, including the existence of Nebraska Golf Card and his chances at making the PGA Tour.
As I continued digging, Cochran's true story began to unfold: a serial, traveling con whose act worked because of his ability to lie, read people and show just enough proof of his claims that kept people guessing if he was legitimate or not.
Our investigation first saw Cochran's criminal activity pop up in a pair of Florida cases. Cochran was twice charged with grand larceny for fraudulent use of credit cards, once in 2005 and again in 2007. In ’05, Cochran’s sentence was suspended after two days served in jail and he paid $1,515 in restitution. Cochran again pleaded no contest two years later in Pinellas County, where Tampa is located. In both cases, felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors. The cases involved hotel theft cases similar to the ones in Nebraska and Pennsylvania.
The 2007 case was related to a late 2006 stay at the Fairfield Inn in Clearwater, Fla. A group of Lockheed Martin employees were staying there at the time, and Cochran identified himself too as a Lockheed worker. Cochran befriended a hotel employee and stayed there for weeks. Eventually, the legitimate Lockheed workers began to wonder who he was. Before the hotel had wised up, Cochran was gone and left them with an unpaid bill of approximately $3,700. He apparently wrote some bad checks to the Moonlight Tour, a Florida-based mini-tour, as well.
Cochran returned home to Scottville, Mich., in November 2007. Cochran emailed a high school athletic director, talking about his return home. The two hit it off quickly as Cochran volunteered to be a basketball coach at the high school, but claimed he was a golf pro by trade. Cochran said his father was not doing well, so he moved him to be closer to the hospital. Cochran had tons of Rocco Mediate stories. Tons.
A few months later, at the end of January 2008, Cochran's father sought this new friend, saying the police had picked up Cochran and tearfully pleading for the AD's help to bail him out.
The two continued to remain friends, with the AD caddying for Cochran at the Michigan Open. Cochran was in position to win the tournament that June, but seemed to tank down the stretch. Had he won, people would look into his background. Eventually, Cochran and AD severed their relationship over lies Cochran was spreading relating to his family.
In March of that year, however, Cochran befriended a Vegas-based woman whose father was the president of a local bank. The two hit it off quickly, with Cochran moving to Vegas. While with the woman, he committed some $1,000 in credit card fraud, secretly using her Social Security number to obtain credit in her name, but with an extra card for him. The woman didn't know of the issues until it was too late, as Cochran had the bills delivered to his parents' house in Michigan. She threatened to go to the police unless he paid back some of the money, which he eventually produced, likely from conning other women while working as director of golf at Las Vegas Golf Club, the city's oldest municipal golf course. Cochran was alleged to have stolen golf equipment and conned female employees at Las Vegas Golf Club into investing in his golf endeavors made cutting him loose easier. He did, in fact, get some money out of several Vegas women.
In Sin City was also where Cochran met golf writer and talk show host Dennis Silvers in 2009. Cochran and Silvers filmed a pilot for a golf TV show called "King of the Muni," in which supposed good golfers would take on Cochran in an 18-hole, big-money competition. Cochran said he was a member of the PGA of America, had once obtained a European Tour card and had ties to current and former PGA Tour players. However, Silvers caught Cochran in enough lies to cut all ties with him. Cochran begged Silvers for the opportunity to reveal the real him -- the same plea Cochran made in a phone call to me weeks after our first reporting a year ago -- but Silvers wanted none of it. Cochran was off to Georgia.
In 2011, Cochran posed as PGA Tour player Chris Riley, emailing Savannah State University head men's golf coach Art Gelow, saying Cochran had just resigned as Director of Golf at The Prairie Club in Nebraska (where he did work) and was moving to the area with his fiancee to provide lessons at Crosswinds Golf Club, the team's home course. Cochran then followed up with an email on where "Riley" left off and landed a role as a volunteer coach with the program. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation later learned both emails were from Cochran's computer.
Cochran was in Savannah for a brief time, from March-December 2011, before his lies and criminal past were found out by players skeptical of his story. Players were weary of claims Cochran had been making that he was drawing a salary for his coaching duties and that Gelow would soon retire and give him the head coaching position.
Before he left town, however, he stole thousands of dollars in myriad ways:
- After a tornado struck Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011, Cochran approached Crosswinds about a special lesson package. The package would be 3 lessons for $300, with $200 of that going to charities to help the community. In total, the program netted $9,000-10,000, but none of that money went to charity.
- Cochran got close to a player in the Savannah State program, according to a source, whose parents were rather wealthy. Cochran approached the player and his parents, saying he would agree to be the player’s coach on an exclusive basis in exchange for $10,000-$20,000 per year, paid in installments. The family had given Cochran some $10,000-$15,000 when they were contacted by Cochran purportedly from his wife’s home in Nebraska, where he said a terrible accident had happened to their home. He asked if the family could pay the next installment of $5,000 ahead of schedule so that he could use it to help with expenses. They refused.
Cochran has several children and had even more cons in other states, including Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois and New Jersey.
However, what may well have led to his capture was one last con in Huntington, W. Va. Cochran was pulling the doctor routine at a hotel there in April and returned in September, racking up some $13,000 in charges. Cochran befriended a female employee of the hotel and remained in touch with her after the stay. He had continued undetected until he revealed his mother's passing on Nov. 6, her name and their shared hometown, where he was going for the funeral. Cochran's true identity was revealed, as was his location. Law enforcement officials were waiting for him.