Hunter and the hunted

David Snow has won an international award for pursuing a conman who stole dead babies’ identities, says Sue Leonard

Hunter and the hunted

LAST MARCH, an American fraudster was jailed for four years. Texan Jeremy Cochran, 36, had six Irish passports, and had used them to gain PPS numbers, and to open bank accounts. He had claimed social welfare, but his biggest scam was lodging false insurance claims.

He was clever. He had duped several insurance companies, but an investigator, Irishman David Snow, proved his match. A member of the International Association of Special Investigation Units, he’d worked for Pinkertons in the States. He was determined to arrest the Texan.

This week, Snow was been named ‘investigator of the year’ by the International Association of Financial Crimes Investigators — the first time an Irishman has won.

This story starts in 2009. “I was called into the office by the head of claims. Cochran claimed he’d been run over by a Polish man in the Curragh. An American, he’d been out walking, and had sustained nasty injuries to his back. The Polish guy verified his story,” Snow says.

“Cochran contacted us from the UK. He’d presented himself at an English accident and emergency department, and they said his injuries were significant. He said he was staying at his uncle’s farm. We’d already given him €5,000 to cover his costs and he was asking for more. The claim could have cost the company €700,000.

“I was suspicious. Why had he not called an ambulance, and why were no gardaí involved? I got an address in Kildare. I went to the house and a neighbour said some Polish guys lived there; but there had been an American as well.

“I rang Cochran. He said he was in the UK, but I knew, from the dial tone, that he was on the Continent. He asked for another €5,000. He sounded genuine and confident. He said he’d been kicked out of his uncle’s place and was living in a rented apartment. I agreed to help, and to make him comfortable, but I was suspicious. I asked how he’d flown to Ireland, and the route he told me doesn’t exist. He then threatened the company, saying ‘pay up, or else.’

“A colleague in the UK went out to the uncle’s farm, and the owner wasn’t Cochran’s uncle. He knew Cochran as Kevin Casey, and said he’d left with lots of rent owing. He’d been with his Polish wife, who was pregnant. I investigated further, and found another claim. Kevin Casey had been knocked down by a Sean Moran. Casey, or actually Cochran, had settled for a few thousand. I now knew he was a scammer.”

Sean Moran was another name used by Jeremy Cochran. Snow refused the claim. His job was done. But he continued investigating, to find out who Jeremy Cochran was.

“I contacted former colleagues in the States, and he was wanted for several small charges. They sent photos. He looked distinctive. He wore a big, white Stetson. Through cheque lodgements, we traced him to Poland. It wasn’t difficult to find him. He was driving an Irish-registered Volvo, and was described as looking like Colin Farrell. He produced a driver’s licence in the name of Kevin Casey. I ran an insurance link and up popped an address in Dundalk. I met the real Kevin Casey. He said he’d had a call from an American. When he applied for a passport, he was told he already had one. He’d also, apparently, signed on for social welfare. He realised his identity had been stolen,” Snow says.

“Cochran had used the name Kevin Casey, claiming he’d been run over by a Polish lady, who was his wife. He’d been given €40,000. He was due to have surgery on his back. He stayed in the Mater Hospital for three days, then checked himself out before any operation.”

Cochran had been in a genuine accident in Colorado. He wasn’t insured. He’d met an Irish girl there. They started a relationship in Ireland, but fled to Mexico after raiding the safe where she worked. He escaped, but she was deported and charged.

Snow’s wife, and colleagues, told him he was obsessed with the case.

“And I was. I was desperate to know who this guy was,” Snow says. But that was nothing to the way he felt when he realised that Cochran had stolen the identities of Irish babies. “That made it personal,” he says.

Gardaí believe that Cochran visited graveyards and used the information he found there to obtain birth certificates.

“My own son Andrew was born in November, 2003. He was stillborn. That is something you never forget. My daughters think of him as a brother. We visit the grave often. Suppose somebody had stolen his identity? Imagine if the terrorists on 9/11 had Irish passports in the names of dead babies? How would that make the grieving parents feel?” Snow says.

Snow had passed the case on to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigations. But he couldn’t resist tracking it.

“I was going to all these addresses in Kildare. I’d make a diversion. I’d talk to the locals,” he says.

Back in Ireland, claiming social benefit under yet another name, Cochran was under Garda surveillance, but he slipped out of the country, through Northern Ireland, and sold the Volvo.

“That was a real low,” says Snow. “But, four months later, I was tipped off that he was coming back from Warsaw via Stansted. He was staying one night.

“He was followed into the passport office. They twigged who he was. He went from there to an address in Kildare, then he went early, by taxi, to the airport. He checked in, and as he was going air-side, he was arrested. Within an hour, he’d confessed everything at Ballymun Garda station.”

Snow was in court, in March, when Cochran was charged with 35 counts of fraud.

“I went up to him, and said, ‘the best of luck Jeremy.’ He said, ‘who are you?’ I said, ‘No. The question is, who are you?’ I was over the moon,” he says.

Cochran has since been deported to America. Snow has written a novel based on the case, called Someone Has Taken My Place, which is available on Amazon.

“It’s 80% true,” Snow says. “But the names have been changed, to protect the identities and spare the parents’ feelings. It was tough for them. But they were helped, greatly, by the stillbirth charity A Little Lifetime Foundation. ”

The charity was so grateful to Snow, and the fraud detectives, that they gave them an award.

“That was amazing,” he says, stressing how much support he, and other parents, have received from the charity.

He rang them the day after the trial, having driven his young daughters, Sarah and Olivia, to school. The story was on the front pages and seeing it in the papers, Snow burst into tears.

“I was emotionally drained,” he says. “I was thinking of Andrew, and of all the babies whose identities had been stolen. I felt a mess. I drove out to Glasnevin Cemetery, to the Little Angels plot. It’s a sad place, but there’s a spiritual feeling there. I felt my job was done. I was ready to move on.”

More Information:

* A percentage of the sales of Someone Has Taken my Place, by David Snow, is being donated to A Little Lifetime Foundation.

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