ABC57 investigation leads to sex offender's arrest
MISHAWAKA, Ind. – An ABC57 investigation helped land a convicted sex offender and accused “catfisher” in jail. US Marshals arrested 45-year-old Jeffrey Cooper at Elkhart General Hospital earlier today.
Cooper, who was convicted of possession of child pornography in 2013, was arrested on several warrants for violating the terms of his parole and sex offender status. Those warrants were issued after an ABC57 investigation uncovered an elaborate online catfishing scheme.
We started looking into the story after the alleged victim sent an email to the newsroom. She claims a man she met online used the picture of the police officer to lure here to South Bend. He then picked her up at the airport, claiming to be the cop’s friend and took her to a nearby hotel.
It turns out, the photo he was using is the picture of fallen officer Scott Severns, who was killed during a robbery in 2006.
When the alleged victim contacted us, she had very little information about who the potential con-artist was. She gave us the name Jeff, some internet usernames and a potential address in Mishawaka. Within all of the apparent fake accounts, there was a little bit of truth. It was just enough for us to track him down and uncover his sickening past.
“My name is Cliff, I’m with ABC57 News. I’m here to ask some questions about using the picture of Scott Severns.” Investigative reporter Clifton French said as he surprised 45-year-old Jeffrey Cooper at his home on West Lawrence Street in Mishawaka. “I don’t even know who that is.” Cooper responded.
We spoke to Cooper for about 10 minutes on his front porch. He adamantly denied the allegations against him from the start. There was no way he could have met a woman online, he said. Adding, he doesn’t even have a computer.
"You don't have a computer? Why don't you have a computer?" We asked him. "I haven't had a computer in a long time." Cooper said. "Is it because you're a registered sex offender?" We replied. "Well, that. Yeah. I haven't had a computer in a while." Cooper responded.
Cooper, who was convicted of possession of child pornography in 2013, says he’s not even supposed to be on the internet. His story contradicts the elaborate scheme described by Virginia Johnson.
“I didn’t know a thing. He seemed absolutely normal. To be honest, they don’t exactly have it tattooed on their forehead, do they?” She said via a Skype call with ABC57 News.
Johnson, who lives in England, is the host of a chat-room on a platform called Fubar. She has what could be considered an internet radio show where she DJs and speaks to visitors. She says she’s been chatting with a man named Jeff for the past 8 months. They even video chat on occasion.
“I trusted him.” She said.
Jeff even sent her a picture of himself. Cooper agreed that photo is of him, but couldn’t explain where it came from.
“That is a picture of me, yeah.” He said.
Through those months of chatting, Jeff learned about Virginia’s affinity for men in uniform. One day, she says he sent her a photo of an officer saying it was his friend Scott. Later he explained Scott wanted to meet her.
“I’m like ‘Whoa! I’ve won the lottery! I’ve done everything just meeting this guy!’ You know what I mean?” Johnson explained.
Johnson has family in California. She decided to take a trip to the States to visit her sister and get to South Bend. She caught a flight to South Bend last week and provided us her flight records for proof. As soon as she landed, she says, Jeff’s story started to fall apart. He picked her up at the airport, took her to the Sleep Inn and started making excused for why Scott wasn’t showing up.
“Scott’s on his way. Scott just called. Scott’s done this. And, when it got to 11:00 o’clock at night I thought, ‘no, something ain’t right here.’” She said.
Jeff was also coming and going.
“Because he kept going to the hospital saying he had a friend at the hospital.” Johnson said.
That is fairly close to the alibi Cooper gave us.
“My wife just had a heart attack and I’ve been with her since Wednesday.” He said. “Can I ask her about that?” We replied. “She’s not here.” Cooper said. “Where is she?” We asked. “She’s at the hospital…” Cooper continued. “So, you were with your wife that entire time at… (the) hospital?” We asked. “Yeah.” Cooper said. “You did not go and stay with a woman at the Sleep Inn? An English woman by the name of Virginia?” We said. “No, No that didn’t happen.” Cooper ended.
Stuck in a foreign country, with a complete stranger, at a hotel near the airport, Johnson says she reached out to her sister to do some research on the photo of the officer. She quickly discovered the man in the photo is a fallen South Bend hero.
“I went nuts! So I went to Skype call and made that idiot take me back to the airport about midnight, something like that.” Johnson explained.
Still denying the allegations after we showed him screen shots of conversations, photos and other evidence, we decided to let Cooper talk it out with Johnson. As soon as we dialed her number, he stormed back into his home.
Johnson went back in California to with her family, before flying back to England. Before contacting us, she says she called the Mishawaka Police Department twice. She claims to have left a message on the chief’s line voicemail. Mishawaka Police deny ever receiving any such calls or messages. Since our research, documentation and questions, MPD opened the investigation that landed in the arrest.
“I hope he rots. And, I hope the prisoners have fun with him.” Johnson said.
Police attempted to arrest Cooper on Friday, but his wife had kicked him out of their house. She believed he had gone to a hotel in Elkhart. He was arrested at Elkhart General Hospital.