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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press Writer, Published April 14 2010

ND pension funds investment director kills himself

BISMARCK (AP) — The investment director for North Dakota's largest pension funds, which have been struggling to recover from the recent stock-market swoon, shot himself to death at his rural north Bismarck home, authorities said Wednesday.

Steve Cochrane, 53, died early Saturday. An autopsy determined Cochrane died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Burleigh County Sheriff's Sgt. Steven Hall said Wednesday. Hall declined to disclose other details, saying the investigation of Cochrane's death had not been completed.

Cochrane was executive director and chief investment officer of the North Dakota Retirement and Investment Office, which is responsible for pension funds that benefit public employees and schoolteachers.

It manages $3.2 billion in pension funds and almost $1.6 billion in insurance funds, including a $1.2 billion workers compensation portfolio, according to its Dec. 31 financial statement, the most recent available.

The value of the Teachers' Fund for Retirement fell 27.3 percent during its 2009 budget year, which ended June 30. The Public Employees Retirement System, the primary pension fund for state government workers, fell 24.4 percent in value during the same period.

The declines coincided with a stock-market downturn that affected pension funds across the country. A subsequent upswing has allowed both funds to recoup some of their losses; from July 1 through Dec. 31, the PERS fund was up 16.9 percent, while the teachers' fund had risen 17.7 percent, according to the funds' financial statements.

Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, chairman of the state Investment Board, which oversees the Retirement and Investment Office, said Cochrane had received glowing job reviews and was considered an exemplary investment manager. Board members were pleased with his performance, Dalrymple said Wednesday.

"We believe that he was regarded as one of the best, one of the top-tier investment managers in the country," Dalrymple said.

The Investment Board is meeting April 23 to discuss recruiting a successor to Cochrane, Dalrymple said. An audit of the Retirement and Investment Office's operations will also be done, which is customary during a change in top management, he said.

Cochrane had been the office's director and chief investment officer since 1997. He held a master's degree in business administration from the University of Florida.

His funeral is scheduled at 2 p.m. Friday at the Parkway Funeral Service Memorial Chapel in Bismarck, which is handling arrangements.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.