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Mother of Madalina Cojocari wanted help 'smuggling' daughter away from stepfather, warrants show

WCNC Charlotte has reviewed search warrants from the Cornelius Police Department that shed new light on the ongoing case.

CORNELIUS, N.C. — Newly obtained search warrants reveal Madalina Cojocari's mother asked a distant relative if he would help with "smuggling" her and Madalina away. She also told him she was in a "bad relationship" with her husband Christopher Palmiter and that she wanted a divorce.

According to the warrants, investigators reviewed phone records revealing "extensive communication on Dec. 2, 2022" with that relative. That person's phone records showed "multiple calls to phone numbers belonging to unidentified targets involved in ongoing T3 drug/narcotic trafficking investigations."

WCNC Charlotte has learned a "T3" investigation involves a wiretap of a phone.

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Records also show investigators twice used a K-9 to search Cojocari's car in February.

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"On Thursday, Feb. 10, 2023, at 1350 hours the K-9 alerted on the driver's side door of the vehicle, suspect Diana Cojocari's vehicle," the warrant said. "K-9 is trained to alert any and all narcotics. The dog also alerted on the vehicle on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023, when a search warrant for the vehicle was obtained."

The warrant later suggested people "associated with narcotics activity are also associated with human smuggling."

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An inventory of items seized from the car includes a debit card belonging to Diana Cojocari, Madalina's Romanian and Moldovan passports, Diana Cojocari's Romanian passport and miscellaneous education certificate and work documents found in the center console.

The Mecklenburg County Clerk of Superior Court released the search warrants Wednesday in response to an inquiry WCNC Charlotte made on Feb. 21 requesting potential new search warrants and any other subsequent documents. Records show the two new warrants were returned on March 7. The warrants show police did not seize anything from Cojocari's home.

Hannah Arrowood, executive director of Present Age Ministries, a Charlotte-area nonprofit organization fighting the exploitation and trafficking of teen girls, said she is not involved with the Cojocari case but sees a familiar theme in Diana's alleged smuggling request.

In human trafficking terms, Arrowood said this is called "familial trafficking," which is when a relative is involved or facilitates the process.

"As a mother, if I think something's happening to my child, you can almost like, throw caution to the wind, those things that could happen," Arrowood said. "Mom thinks they're just trying to get out of this situation... whether it's a domestic violence situation or a volatile situation, that there are unknowns that they don't know how to prepare for that could end up being worse."

While the full story is still unknown, Arrowood said a foreign background can sometimes play a role in some people avoiding turning to authorities for help and, instead, trying to find their own way out. It could be for fear of deportation, getting separated from their loved one or not being believed.

However, she reminds there is help out there.

"Here in the United States, we have protections," Arrowood said. "If you have been a victim of a crime, and you're a foreign national, they actually have protections and can process your visa differently, based on the fact that you were a victim of a crime."

She encourages anyone needing help escaping a concerning environment, trafficking-related or otherwise, to reach out to the Charlotte Metro Human Trafficking Task Force.

Madalina was last seen publicly getting off of her school bus on Nov. 21, 2022. Her mother later told police she saw her daughter last on Nov. 23, 2022, but she did not report her missing for three weeks. When asked why it took so long, she told police she "didn't want to start a conflict" with her husband.

That three-week period violates Caylee's Law. Cojocari and Palmiter were arrested on Dec. 17, 2022, and are still in custody. Both are expected back in court in May.

Contact Nate Morabito at nmorabito@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Contact Chloe Leshner at cleshner@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Contact Vanessa Ruffes at vruffes@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram  

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