How a reclusive woman in rural Manitoba scammed an NBA star
'I don’t think you’ll find a case that even comes close to this:' Defence lawyer
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/08/2015 (2719 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A poorly educated young woman pulls off a complex, international extortion and identity scam targeting several famous victims who live thousands of miles from her dilapidated, mold-infested home in a remote northern Manitoba community.
A professional athlete finds his career seemingly in ruins and loses millions in contract money and endorsements. An actress is duped into shelling out thousands of dollars for what she thinks is a charitable cause. A lovesick woman is led to believe she’s being courted by an online Romeo.
Dozens of full-time investigators in two countries spend three years combing through a mountain of complex evidence. There are 39 search warrants executed in various Canadian cities and U.S. states, hundreds of phone number and email address records to pore through, and five hard drives worth of evidence eventually gathered.
Now the surprising con artist behind the computer keyboard has admitted responsibility.
Shelly Lynne Chartier — described as a celebrity-obsessed shut-in who only achieved a Grade 6 education — appeared in an Easterville courtroom Wednesday to be sentenced on several charges including extortion, impersonation and uttering threats. The community of less than 100 residents is located about 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg
“This was extremely planned, deliberate and conniving. She is a master manipulator,” said Crown attorney Terry McComb. The Free Press obtained a copy of a 14-page agreed statement of facts, and also reviewed an audio transcript of the hour-long hearing.
The Crown is seeking an 18-month jail sentence for Chartier, 30, who has no prior criminal involvement. Chartier wants a conditional sentence that allows her to remain free in the community. Provincial court Judge Ryan Rolston has reserved his decision until later this year. There is a court-ordered publication ban on the specific identifies of all victims.
“I don’t think you’ll find a case that even comes close to this,” defence lawyer John Skinner told court.
The NBA star
He was a star in the National Basketball Association. But he became the prime target for a complete stranger determined to make his life a living hell.
“It’s simply an ongoing nightmare,” the athlete wrote in a victim impact statement submitted this week at Chartier’s sentencing hearing. “I still don’t fully understand what happened here, how someone could steal my identity and nearly take my life because of who I am. This false news spread worldwide in minutes. It’s impossible for me to describe everything, but in front of millions of people on a public stage, I wore this label.”
The scheme to target him began in 2010 as Chartier resorted to what has come to be known as “catfishing.”
Chartier set up a Facebook profile in which she pretended to be the basketball player while seeking out potential love interests with young women online. She also set up another fake account using the name of a popular online video game enthusiast.
Once these connections had been made, Chartier would then contact the real basketball player through his social-media accounts, now taking on the identity of the young women she had befriended while posing as the basketball player. The idea was to create situations where she could ultimately force the athlete into career-threatening situations and he’d be forced to pay “hush money.”
One of those young women was a then 17-year-old California girl who was apparently infatuated with athletes including the basketball player and held herself out to actually be 21. Chartier ended up getting the girl to send the basketball player nude photos of herself — by pretending online to be him. She also facilitated a meeting between the two of them, where the basketball player paid for her flights and they had consensual sex. Of course, he believed she was 21.
Once that was over, Chartier began blackmailing the basketball player — by pretending to be the teen and later the teen’s angry mother. Chartier made numerous demands, including the purchase of clothing, lingerie and other household items.
The basketball player ultimately sent a cheque for $3,000, believing it would divert from any legal issues. Chartier pocketed the money. Chartier also began threatening the teen while using the bogus identify of the video game player she had also taken on, even posting some of her nude pictures online and sending her a link.
All of this eventually led to the girl and her mother going to police, and a child exploitation investigation getting underway in which the basketball player and video game player were viewed as suspects. Ultimately, police figured out what was happening, but the damage done to the athlete’s reputation was significant.
“He was denounced as a pedophile,” McComb told court this week. 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.
“Extreme damage to my image. Couldn’t go into public. Extreme trust issues, loss of sleep, several mental impacts including friends, family,” the basketball player wrote in his victim impact statement. “Nearly lost my career, signed two year minimum because of this incident, lost several sponsorships to the tune of millions of dollars. Took loss on my home just to get out.”
Another high-profile target was a Hollywood actress, who knew the basketball player she targeted through similar social circles. Chartier reached out to the woman, posing as the basketball player, and asked her if she might be able to do him a favour.
A friend had lost everything in a house fire in a remote Canadian community. The actress said she would help and eventually sent several thousand dollars worth of clothing and an expensive bottle of wine.
It was Chartier, of course, who was on the receiving end of all of this.
“Once I began to figure out that Shelly Chartier was behind the keyboard, acting as several other people, I built a wall and was no longer open to being as giving or trusting as I once was,” the actress wrote in her victim impact statement presented in court this week.
The lovesick woman
Chartier’s longest-lasting victim was a Texas woman she befriended online, using the persona of the video game player she had impersonated. Between 2008 and 2012, they maintained an online relationship despite never coming face-to-face.
The Texas woman was of “limited means” but essentially devoted her life to pleasing the video game player she thought she was talking to. Chartier would use voice memos she would trick men online into recording, then send them to the Texas woman who believed they were coming from her boyfriend.
Chartier would also send nude photos to the woman and also impersonated the video game player’s ex-wife, mother and brother in text communication. She also forwarded that expensive bottle of wine the Hollywood actress had sent her.
It was described as an often “emotionally abusive” relationship, where Chartier would berate and degrade the Texas woman in messages when she got angry. She even made the woman think her boyfriend was cheating on her.
“She was a reclusive woman of very limited economic means who was emotionally fragile and heavily dependent upon (what she thought was her boyfriend) for love and attention,” said the agreed statement of facts.
The woman also sent plenty of gifts and money — Chartier again used the bogus “house fire” story to elicit sympathy — and was also in the process of buying a car for her boyfriend when the ruse was exposed in 2013.
“There was a tremendous emotional toll here that took place as she began to fall in love. When she found out (it wasn’t real), she experienced that loss like you might experience a loss of a loved one,” McComb told court this week.
According to the agreed statement of facts, Chartier came from an “economically disadvantaged background” and certainly there was an element of financial greed.
However, it appears her main motivation was to simply take pleasure in being able to play God with the lives of strangers.
“According to one witness, she rarely if ever, was seen outside of her house. From the forensic evidence, it was determined that her presence online was compulsive and constant. She had numerous personalities she had been assuming on the net which she used to interact with many people. These personas appear to have been a key social outlet for her and a means of exerting some influence over others,” reads the document.
“It was an avenue into a world of talented and beautiful celebrities she could only dream about; it appears that she would engage in fantasy whereby she participated in the lives of others more interesting than her own. It was a means of acquiring some property and money, which she couldn’t otherwise attain.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Monday, August 24, 2015 5:48 PM CDT: A version of this story named the victims involved in the case. On Aug. 24, 2015, the Free Press was advised a publication ban did not exist and this story — initially published on Aug. 20 — was updated to include identities. However, later in the day, justice officials contacted the Free Press to say the ban was in fact in place and the story reverted back to its original version adhering to the publication ban.