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Southern Alberta man charged with public mischief over fake disappearance

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LETHBRIDGE, Alta. - Police in southern Alberta have charged a man with public mischief after he allegedly staged his own disappearance.

Matthew Aaron Robillard's relatives called police when the 25-year-old Lethbridge man failed to show up for work Jan. 31 at a Scotiabank in nearby Picture Butte.

His car was later discovered running with a smashed window in an industrial area near the Calgary airport. His keys, wallet and phone, along with a pack of cigarettes, had been left in the car. Robillard doesn't smoke.

Investigators received an early morning phone call from Robillard, a married father of a six-month-old baby, a few days later and found him at a Calgary hotel.

"The man's disappearance was precipitated by a significant financial loss. The abduction was subsequently staged to make it appear as though he had been extorted in order to account for that loss," Ian Sanderson, acting inspector for the Lethbridge police criminal investigation division, said at a news conference Tuesday.

"This was a ruse that spanned multiple jurisdictions and diverted valuable police resources away from real victims and real crimes. It’s a concern to us that someone would take these steps and cause police to continue an investigation when no crime had occurred."

The investigation by the Lethbridge and Calgary police services determined Robillard was not the victim of a crime.

Police allege he planned his disappearance and took deliberate steps, including breaking his own vehicle window and causing injuries to himself, to make it appear as though he had been abducted.

Sanderson said no other charges against Robillard are expected and repeated earlier comments that his family was totally unaware of the circumstances surrounding the case. He said the suspect has been very co-operative with police during the investigation.

Robillard was released from custody and is scheduled to appear in court April 8.

Robillard is not the first person from Lethbridge to be involved in a strange disappearance. A decade ago, a city alderwoman, Dar Heatherington, made international headlines for faking her disappearance.

The married mother vanished while in Montana on city business and was found three days later in Las Vegas. She claimed she had been drugged and abducted, but later recanted the story and was convicted of public mischief.

She was also convicted of inventing a stalker. Following a feud with her colleagues about keeping her job, she resigned from city council.

Sanderson said the most distressing thing about the most recent case is that it took police attention away from other serious crimes.

"This investigation collectively cost in excess tens of thousands of dollars when we compile costs on behalf of Calgary and Lethbridge. Helicopters were in the air, numerous canine teams were out there, forensic experts ... We called a number of qualified specialists that could recover information from telephones," Sanderson said.

"We expended a great deal of resources and public money in support of an investigation when in fact there never was a crime."

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary

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