Man charged with impersonating Fort McMurray evacuee

When Darryl Rondeau and his girlfriend came to Claresholm, Alta., saying they lost everything in the Fort McMurray fire, they were welcomed with open arms — then police noticed their story didn't add up.

'All the material stuff we can replace that, but there is always going to be that little bit of doubt now'

Darryl Rondeau, 47, has been charged with fraud under $5,000 for allegedly pretending to be a Fort McMurray evacuee. (Darryl Rondeau/Facebook)

Claresholm is an Alberta town with a big heart.

When Darryl Rondeau and his girlfriend came to the community on May 5 claiming they lost everything in the Fort McMurray fire, the town welcomed them with open arms.

According to RCMP, the couple was taken out by a real estate agent who bought them new clothes, they received free meals from restaurants and were put up in an RV at the town's campsites. They even got a front-page story in the local paper chronicling their hardships.

The town did their best to welcome the pair, but after a few days, police started to notice that some elements of their story didn't add up. 

Kieth Carlson, the owner and chef of Roy's Place in Claresholm, said the couple came into his restaurant and he fed them and offered the woman a job.

"After we fed them and they had the most expensive thing on the menu we said, 'Well, I think they're just taking advantage of the situation to begin with,'" Carlson said. "So it didn't surprise me a whole lot."

A newspaper clipping of when Darryl Rondeau first arrived in Claresholm. (Facebook)

'These guys aren't who they say they are'

On May 12, the RCMP received a formal complaint about the couple. On May 15, Rondeau was charged with one count of fraud under $5,000. 

Cpl. Dalyn Orsten with the Claresholm RCMP said the first red flag for them was raised when the couple didn't register with the Red Cross.

"From there it was kind of like, 'These guys aren't who they say they are,' and we just kept digging," said Orsten.

Orsten said it is likely that as they speak to more victims, more charges will be laid.

"He will be looking at additional charges in the end as well," said Orsten. "Every time he presented himself as a victim and somebody gave him money or whatever it was, that can be a separate charge as well." 

If convicted, he faces up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $2,000.

It's not clear yet whether Rondeau's partner will also face charges.

'A fart in the car'

Carlson said that he was contacted by the RCMP asking if they wanted to pursue charges and he figured it wasn't worth it.

He compared the couple to "a fart in a car" but said that if given the opportunity, he would help them again.

"I follow the thought pattern that if they truly did need help and you didn't give them a hand, you're a worse person for it," said Carlson.

The sign for Roy's Place where Darryl Rondeau and his girlfriend received a free meal and a job offer. (Facebook)

Cpl. Orsten, who calls Claresholm home, said the worst part of the situation is that some people in the small town who welcomed the couple so openly might not be so warm next time.

Claresholm is a rural town about 130 kilometres south of Calgary with a population of a little over 3,500.

"Their backs are up, before they would just openly say 'Oh poor you' and buy you a supper or whatever it is," said Orsen. "Now I think there is going to be that hesitation, you know?"

"All the material stuff we can replace that, but there always going to be that little bit of doubt now."

But Carlson said it won't affect how he treats people. 

"We're not going to change our views based on one sour experience," he said. 

Rondeau is expected to make his second court appearance on June 1.