Woman’s alleged crime spree nets 28 charges

Michelle La Chapelle, 33, is accused of numerous incidents of theft and fraud.

An alleged crime spree has netted an Abbotsford woman 28 charges of theft and fraud dating back to last November.

Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said among the accusations against Michelle Lee La Chapelle, 33, are that she stole wallets or purses and then used credit cards within them – or the information on the cards – to purchase items such as tires, electronics and gift cards.

In some cases, she is alleged to have stolen the merchandise directly.

MacDonald said, in one incident, she apparently nabbed a toaster that was plugged in at a local recreation centre.

“It looks like what she did was, wherever there was an opportunity, she seized upon it.”

MacDonald credits the charges to the work of an Abbotsford Police fraud investigator who was able to piece together several separate incidents over the last 10 months and link them to one individual, using tools such as video surveillance.

“That’s not easy to do. It’s a lot of work,” MacDonald said.

Her charges include several counts each of theft over $5,000, fraud, unauthorized use of credit card data, theft of credit cards, and possession of property obtained by crime.

According to the provincial court database, La Chapelle has numerous prior convictions in Abbotsford, Surrey, New Westminster, Prince George, Castlegar and Coquitlam for offences such as theft, fraud, possession of stolen property, using a stolen credit card, and breach of her probation.

In 2006, she received an 18-month conditional sentence (house arrest) for a robbery in New Westminster.

Abbotsford Police are also considering whether La Chapelle may have links to “well over a dozen” complaints received in the last several months about a woman in her 30s who claims she needs urgent cash.

MacDonald said the suspect approaches people in shopping mall parking lots and busy intersections. She asks for a ride to the nearest ATM, saying she needs to withdraw cash for a medical emergency or other situation involving her child.

In some instances, she waits until a car stops at a traffic light or stop sign, opens the passenger door, sits down and, in a panicked voice, says she needs a ride to an ATM.

Once the driver takes her to the machine, the woman claims to remember that she has no money left in her account. She then asks the person for some cash.

MacDonald said it is difficult to lay charges in such a case when people have willingly handed over money, but he wants to warn the public that the suspect’s story is false, given the number of times she has repeated it over the last several months.