Manitoba woman charged in alleged extortion of NBA star
A Manitoba woman has been charged in connection to an alleged extortion case involving NBA star Chris "Birdman" Andersen.
The Miami Heat forward was the victim of a wide-ranging internet hoax that resulted in a raid of his Denver-area home last year, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Colorado police then contacted RCMP in Manitoba, which led to the arrest in January of Shelly Lynne Chartier.
The 29-year-old woman from Easterville — a small community in central Manitoba, about 450 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg — has been charged with possession of child pornography, personation, extortion and transmitting child pornography.
She is set to appear in Easterville court on the charges next month and Colorado police said she could face further charges in the U.S.
The reality of these child pornography investigations is that more often than not they have tentacles all over the world and there's no borders.- RCMP Sgt. Line Karpish
The imposter allegedly made the connections through Andersen's Facebook profile.Andersen's lawyer and agent, Mark Bryant, said a person posed online as his client then started chatting with a 17-year-old girl, who was a friend of Andersen.
At the same time she posed as Andersen, Chartier was allegedly impersonating the girl in separate chats with the tattoo-covered fan favourite known as "Birdman."
Bryant said neither Andersen nor the girl realized they weren't actually communicating with each other online or via cellphone texts, but rather were communicating with Chartier.
Bryant says it came to a head when the person posing as Andersen asked the girl to do certain things, and she refused.
"That individual acting as Mr.Andersen then threatened her with bodily injury and to publicize illicit photos," Bryant said, adding the teen then went to police "and said, 'Look, I've been having this relationship with Chris Andersen and now look.'"
Chartier, still posing as the teen, then allegedly tried to extort $3,000 from Andersen, Bryant said.
Prosecutors say Andersen has been cleared of wrongdoing in the "extremely complex" case.
"Draw a triangle and keep working the triangle you'll understand, otherwise you get dizzy on this thing," he said."Chris was a victim," said Bryant, adding it was his understanding that the investigation uncovered at least a dozen people across several other states who were duped by the same woman.
"The top of this triangle would assume whatever identity necessary whether it be this girl, whether it be Mr. Andersen, whether it be this girl's mother."
Sgt. Line Karpish, spokeswoman with the RCMP, said Douglas County, Colo., authorities requested assistance on the case in May 2012, and that investigation led to the January arrest.
Even though Easterville is thousands of kilometres from Colorado, crimes involving the internet make it a small world.
"You know, the reality of these child pornography investigations is that more often than not they have tentacles all over the world and there's no borders," she said.
She added online extortion attempts are not uncommon.
"What sometimes appears to be to the naked eye when you start delving into it, is not necessarily the real picture of what it is," said Karpish.
A spokeswoman for the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Colorado said any announcement of U.S. charges against Chartier will be made "in the near future after a careful review of the evidence."
"We are looking at 4,000 pages of information in relation to an investigation that is extremely complex," said Lisa Pinto.
"The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has conducted a highly sophisticated investigation where they have crossed state lines and international borders to obtain evidence and pursue the truth in this case."
In May 2012, Douglas County Sheriff's detectives searched Andersen's home as part of an ongoing investigation by the department's Internet Crimes Against Children unit.
It's everybody's worst nightmare, but I just want to thank everyone that supported me and knew this was a lie from the beginning.- Chris "Birdman" Andersen
Although Andersen wasn't arrested or charged, the Denver Nuggets, in the midst of a playoff series against the Lakers, excused him from all team-related activities. That off-season, they released him under the NBA's amnesty clause.
"I want to thank the Miami Heat organization for reaching out and believing in Chris probably more as an individual than as a basketball player," Bryant said. "That embrace assisted him in this difficult time and to that organization and to the fans around the world that stood behind him, his deepest thanks."
The Heat released a statement saying, "we are not surprised that this is the end result. We are happy for Chris and glad this unfortunate incident is behind him."
Bryant said Andersen will continue to co-operate with investigators and prosecutors "as they seek justice for all involved."
He said he didn't believe any of the other alleged victims were celebrities or sports figures.
With his reputation tarnished, Andersen had to halt his numerous appearances for children's charities until his name was cleared.
"I can't tell you how much Chris agonized about the label placed on him and some of the public's perception that resulted from these acts," Bryant said.
"Chris among all things is a member of our community and has a long, documented history of reaching out to children. He's done this through assisting with children's camps, local orphanages, literally (dressing up as) Santa Claus in our community."
Bryant said Andersen told him he appreciated those who reserved judgment and stood by him as he professed his innocence. As for Andersen's acquaintance in California, "that individual here is also a victim," Bryant said.
Bryant said the young woman from California flew to Denver to see Andersen, "but again, that liaison was set up by the individual in Canada. (The young woman) came here and they spent time together and left.
“What transpired after that we believe was a threat from the individual in Canada, presuming to be Chris Andersen to that individual. And that threat subsequently led to the warrants that were executed on Mr. Andersen's house -- although they had nothing to do with Chris."
The young woman was 17 at the time, which is the age of consent in Colorado.
"There was no crime committed in Colorado," Bryant said.
Andersen released a statement recently about the ordeal, stating, "It's everybody's worst nightmare, but I just want to thank everyone that supported me and knew this was a lie from the beginning."
With files from The Associated Press