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Ex-probation officer sentenced in misconduct case

Frank Keith Cochran avoids a prison term but was ordered to serve four months in jail, two years of house arrest and three years of probation.

Published March 23, 2004

NEW PORT RICHEY - A former probation officer accused of having sex with a woman he supervised pleaded no contest to misconduct charges Monday. In return, Frank Keith Cochran, 41, of New Port Richey avoids a state prison sentence.

Circuit Judge Daniel Diskey sentenced Cochran, a 16-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections, to four months in the Pasco County Jail, two years of house arrest and three years of probation.

Cochran faced charges of official misconduct and sexual misconduct, both third-degree felonies.

Prosecutors alleged that, in addition to having sex with a probationer, Cochran altered official documents to prevent the woman from violating her probation.

Cochran could have received five years in prison for each charge if convicted at trial.

"There are a number of reasons why you would not want to send a probation officer to state prison," Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said. Cochran had a reputation as an aggressive officer who put many of those he supervised back in prison.

"The question becomes what do you do with an individual who did a good job for the community and then committed a crime," Halkitis said.

Cochran oversaw hundreds of people sentenced to probation and house arrest, ensuring that they passed drug tests and showed up for work. He had the power to file affidavits against those who violated the terms of their probation, which usually led to an arrest warrant.

Melinda Starnes, a former exotic dancer, said she and Cochran had sex several times beginning in November 2002 while she was on house arrest.

On his first probation visit to Starnes' house, Cochran found a bottle of wine in her refrigerator, she told the Times in May 2003, the day after Cochran's arrest.

According to Starnes, Cochran asked "Do you want to go to jail?"

When she said "No," Cochran replied, "Then you're going to cooperate."

They had sex that night and Starnes moved in with Cochran shortly thereafter. They smoked pot and got drunk together, Starnes, now 30, said. He became nervous about the relationship and made her move out in December 2002. At that point, Starnes said she would go public if she was arrested again.

In March 2003, she was arrested for violating a no-contact provision in another case. At the jail, she described her relationship with Cochran in a written affidavit.

Cochran resigned from the Department of Corrections soon after Starnes' arrest, citing "personal reasons."

With Starnes' affidavit in hand, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office opened the criminal investigation into Cochran. After his arrest, four other women went public with similar stories about Cochran.

Halkitis said Cochran still could be called as a witness in violation of probation cases against those he supervised - if any of those cases still are in the court system. The jury would weigh Cochran's credibility just like any other witness, he added.

[Last modified March 23, 2004, 01:05:39]

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