The hunt for a cyber-predator
How a call from an American investigator sparked case that could be movie
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/10/2015 (2669 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Gord Olson has been to many disturbing places during his 15-year career as a Manitoba RCMP officer.
But he said nothing could have prepared him for what he encountered during the investigation of a cyber-predator: a National Basketball Association star victimized in Colorado, an actress victimized in California and a lovesick woman victimized in Texas.
The person pulling the strings was in Olson’s jurisdiction all along — a celebrity-obsessed woman hiding behind the anonymity of her keyboard while living in Easterville, a remote Manitoba community of fewer than 100 people located 500 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
‘We’ve seen snippets of this kind of thing… but to this magnitude, it’s certainly the biggest one’ — RCMP investigator Gord Olson
Olson is a member of the Internet child exploitation unit and the lead Canadian investigator who helped crack one of the most complex online cases in this country’s history. He spoke to the Free Press this week, days after watching 31-year-old Shelly Chartier get sentenced to 18 months in jail and two years of supervised probation.
Olson travelled to Easterville for the hearing, which was held in a community hall. He said he wouldn’t have missed it for anything. He stood proudly in the back of the packed room as three years of often around-the-clock work came to a successful conclusion.
“I wanted to be there to hear the judge’s decision. I wanted to be there to be able to relay it back to the victims,” Olson said.
He has kept in close contact with the victims, whose identities are protected by a court-ordered ban. Olson has visited them several times in their home communities.
Olson said the journey began with a 2011 phone call from Shawn Cronce, the head of Colorado’s Internet crimes against children unit. She was investigating a local athlete as part of a controversial child-sex and pornography case and needed Olson’s help because the IP address of a Manitoba woman had turned up.
Olson said the investigation that followed was perfect material for a movie. They discovered Chartier had caught many victims in a web of lies.
Chartier was pulling their strings, manipulating their lives and doing great harm to their reputations. None of them had a clue what was happening.
“The first time I was able to see some of (Cronce’s) documents I knew it was going to be a pretty unusual investigation,” Olson told the Free Press. “We had a lot of information to power through and make sense of and put into place like a puzzle.”
Olson was no stranger to Internet crime investigations, which often involve catching pedophiles trying to lure vulnerable children. But this case was unlike anything Olson had seen.
Olson said it wasn’t where the crime occurred that surprised him, as “You can get on the Internet from pretty much anywhere these days.”
“We’ve seen snippets of this kind of thing… but to this magnitude, it’s certainly the biggest one,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges was keeping track of what was real and what was fiction. That’s because Chartier — despite having a Grade 6 education and being socially isolated — had done a masterful job of covering her tracks. She played her victims off of each other as part of a fantasy world of her own creation.
The result was putting people in positions where they were forced to pay hush money and send gifts such as cash and clothing under the guise of being exposed for what they thought were sinister situations they were in — but had been cooked up by Chartier.
Police executed 39 search warrants in nine U.S. and Canadian locales. Nearly four dozen investigators worked on the case, with Olson leading the Canadian end and Cronce carrying the American side.
“We hit it off right off the hop. We both hit the ground running with it. It was really her and I putting this all together,” he said. “We’ve now become really good friends.”
Olson grew up in Brandon, got his business degree and managed a nightclub for several years in that city before joining the RCMP. He got to know plenty of interesting characters during that time, but admits this investigation will be hard to top.
It may not be over. Authorities in the U.S. are considering whether to lay additional charges for which she could face deportation. She couldn’t be tried a second time for the crimes she’s admitted to in Canada, but there are other aspects of the case, Olson said.
He’s fielded many media inquiries from around the world and has even spoken with police colleagues about the investigation. Last year, he and Cronce spoke to a conference in Dallas. “We’ve done a case study on it,” he said.
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.