A Manitoba woman has been accused of a complex plot to blackmail an NBA player through a dangerous, cross-border game of online identity theft.
Police and justice officials told the Free Press Wednesday an 18-month investigation remains ongoing into a case unlike any they've seen.
Shelly Lynne Chartier, 29, of Easterville, Man., is facing a lengthy list of charges including possession of child pornography, distribution of child pornography, extortion, personation and uttering threats. She is set to make her first court appearance next month in The Pas.
RCMP would only confirm basic details of her arrest on Wednesday, saying they continue to work with American investigators and more charges are expected. That likely includes a slew of offences to be laid in the U.S. as well.
"We're in midstream on this. We know these types of investigations can have so many tentacles around the world. It's a very large investigation, and this is one that can have major ramifications," said RCMP Sgt. Line Karpish.
Chartier is currently free on stringent release conditions while residing in Easterville, a town of less than 100 residents located about 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg. None of the allegations has been proven and she is presumed innocent.
'It's been harrowing. When this kind of label gets attached, it's very hard to carry on'
There are believed to be more than a dozen victims across at least seven U.S. states, including Chris "Birdman" Andersen, who recently captured an NBA championship with the Miami Heat.
Andersen, 35, was living in Colorado, playing for the Denver Nuggets, when the scheme to target him allegedly began in 2010.
Investigators say a woman unknown to Andersen set up a Facebook profile in which she pretended to be him while seeking out potential love interests with young women online.
Once these connections had been made, the accused would then contact the real Andersen through his social-media accounts, now taking on the identity of the young women she had befriended while posing as Andersen.
"She was triangulating these relationships, with her being at the top of the triangle," Andersen's lawyer and agent, Mark Bryant, told the Free Press Wednesday from Colorado.
The idea, investigators say, was to create situations where she could ultimately force Andersen into career-threatening situations and he'd be forced to pay "hush money."
At least one such incident occurred in 2011, involving a then-17-year-old California girl with whom the Manitoba woman allegedly solicited an online relationship under the guise of being Andersen.
The accused reportedly convinced the teen to send nude photos of herself, which now form the basis of the child-pornography charges. She also arranged for the girl to fly to Colorado to meet Andersen in person. This was facilitated through numerous conversations in which she would play the roles of both Andersen and the teen while talking to the other.
In essence, Andersen and the teen both were duped -- they had never communicated with each other online prior to their face-to-face meeting.
Once they met, the Manitoba woman allegedly "broke off" the relationship with the California girl by purporting to be Andersen. She then contacted Andersen, now posing as the mother of the California girl, accusing him of taking advantage of her daughter. This included references to going public with the nude pictures the teen had sent to him (which Andersen, of course, had never received).
The only way she would keep quiet was if certain demands were met, including the purchase of thousands of dollars in cash, clothing, lingerie and other household items.
All of this created a major legal and community-relations nightmare for Andersen, who did extensive work with children in Colorado during his seven-year career there.
A police search of his home and computers in the spring of 2012 became front-page news, and a cloud of doubt continued to linger over him as the investigation was ongoing.
He was released by Denver and signed by Miami during this most recent season and he had always denied any wrongdoing.
Now it's finally clear he was a victim, not a perpetrator, of any wrongdoing.
"It's been harrowing. When this kind of label gets attached, it's very hard to carry on," Bryant said Wednesday.
His client was recently called into a meeting with police and prosecutors in Colorado. Also present were members of the Manitoba RCMP, who informed him of what they had uncovered. It was a surreal moment, said Bryant.
"We didn't even know this woman (the Manitoba accused) existed," he said. "He's never met her before, doesn't even know her."
He said Andersen is thankful for the hard work by police in Manitoba and the U.S. for getting to the bottom of such a bizarre and troubling situation.
Both he and Karpish said the investigation has been complicated by the large amount of forensic computer work required for such a case. Much of that remains ongoing.
"I'm not sure how sophisticated this person was," said Bryant.