Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mail fraud funded flashy lifestyle

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Michael Chief seemed to be living the dream -- new car, fancy jewelry and the type of lifestyle that seemed impossible following a horrific upbringing.

And yet it was all a sham, obtained through a string of complex crimes that have landed the Winnipeg man behind bars once again.

Chief, 35, pleaded guilty Wednesday to 37 charges including mail theft, fraud and impersonation. He was sentenced to 28 months in jail, in addition to nearly a year of time already served.

Lawyers told court Chief would rummage through mail boxes at apartment buildings in various city neighbourhoods, then go through the documents and come up with fake identification to match cheques he'd swiped.

Chief would then cash in, feeding a chronic drug and alcohol addiction and bolstering his bottom line, which allowed him to make a handful of purchases, including of a vehicle, gold chain and new clothing.

In total, Chief pocketed more than $10,000 during a two-month spree, which he has now been ordered to repay.

He was busted in May 2011 after an investigation, which included police releasing surveillance video of him to the public. A tipster identified Chief as the culprit, and he has been in custody since.

Chief is no stranger to the law, having been convicted on 22 separate occasions of 53 prior offences, court was told. He was out on bail for several other property-related crimes when he commenced his mail fraud.

"He has spent a considerable part of his life in jail," defence lawyer Darren Sawchuk said Wednesday.

A court-ordered report on Chief's aboriginal upbringing paints an ugly picture of a childhood filled with abuse, neglect, violence and death. Several close family members have either killed or been killed, and Chief was subjected to brutal acts inflicted by so-called loved ones.

"He has been failed by his heritage in many ways," Sawchuk said. "He's inherited addictions, he's inherited abuse. At some point in time, people have to take ownership. Mr. Chief is at that stage in his life now."

Provincial court Judge Patti Umpherville said Chief was clearly the victim of an "alarming upbringing" but has to start taking responsibility for the path he's heading down.

www.mikeoncrime.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2012 B3

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