Mother of missing Madalina Cojocari admits she failed to report daughter’s disappearance

Diana Cojocari, the mother of a girl who mysteriously disappeared from her Cornelius home after Thanksgiving 2022, pleaded guilty to failing to report her daughter missing in court on Monday morning.

Cojocari, 39, who was in the United States on a green card, was likely to be released later Monday, said Mecklenburg Superior Court Judge Thomas Davis. Since her arrest in 2022, she served 17 months in the Mecklenburg County Detention Center — the maximum sentence for failing to report a child missing.

When released, it is “probable and highly likely” that Cojocari will be deported, Davis told her in court Monday. Standing in jail scrubs between her retained lawyers — Daniel Roberts and a co-counsel — Cojocari said she understood. She has family in Moldova.

The plea comes as her husband and co-defendant, Christopher Palmiter, prepares for a trial this week that is expected to make many unknown details of the case public. Since Madalina Cojocari, then 11, went missing in 2022, the couple has given conflicting information to police and relatives.

A separate trial held in the same courtroom must come to a close before Palmiter’s trial can begin, said Mike Stolp, a spokesman for the Mecklenburg District Attorney’s Office.

Madalina Cojocari, now 13, remains missing.

Madalina Cojocari: Cornelius’s missing girl

School counselors called Diana Cojocari and Palmiter — Madalina’s stepfather — to Bailey Middle School after her teacher noticed a long absence following the Cornelius school’s 2022 Thanksgiving break.

Madalina was last seen Nov. 23, 2022, police say, and on Nov. 30, 2022, a neighbor reported her mother was burning furniture in the backyard.

Cojocari and Palmiter didn’t report her missing until Dec. 15 of that year. By Dec. 17, Cornelius police had arrested the couple, charging each with failure to report a missing child.

Palmiter posted a $25,000 bond, which was originally $200,000. Cojocari remained in jail under a $250,000 bond. It was unclear if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would meet Cojocari upon her release Monday.

Both Cojocari and Palmiter have been interviewed by police, but neither have offered any explanation as to why they didn’t report the girl missing, prosecutors said in a previous court hearing.

Only bits of conflicting information exist in court documents, and they tend to introduce more questions — none of which have been answered.

Cojocari has claimed Madalina disappeared on the night of Nov. 23, when her parents were fighting. That night, Cojocari says she asked Palmiter if he knew where Madalina was.

Had he hidden her?

He asked her the same, he told police.

Cojocari told a distant relative on Dec. 2, 2022, that she was attempting to “smuggle” both her daughter and herself away from their home in Cornelius because of her “bad” relationship with her husband, according to court documents and search warrants. She wanted a divorce, the relative said.

Cojocari told investigators she believed Palmiter put their family in danger. She also told police she did not report her daughter missing sooner because she feared “conflict” with him, investigators wrote in the documents in the court file.

Later, in a recorded jail call between Cojocari and her mother, “the women discuss a bag with money, withdrawing cash, and a ‘theory that Chris gave the girl away for money,’” according to a search warrant filed by police to obtain bank records.

In another recorded call between Palmiter, his brother and his sister-in-law, he mentioned Cojocari “had a lot of cash with her and he did not know where it came from,” according to the warrant.

In court in August, Palmiter’s lawyer said “he believes she is being cared for by someone who mom assigned.”

Based off surveillance video footage, police believe Madalina was with a man near Sugar Mountain on Dec. 16.

At 90 pounds and 4 feet, 10 inches tall, 11-year-old Madalina was last seen wearing jeans, pink, purple and white Adidas shoes, and a white T-shirt and jacket.

Cornelius police and members of the community gathered last month to read cards in honor of her 13th birthday, part of the effort to help find her.

Anyone with information on Madalina’s whereabouts is asked to call the Cornelius Police Department at 704-892-7773 or the FBI at 1-800-CALL FBI. Anyone who wishes to remain anonymous can call North Mecklenburg Crime Stoppers at 704-896-7867.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.