MIAMI HEAT

The Miami Heat’s ‘Birdman’ wins his name back

 

jgoodman@MiamiHerald.com

The hard-luck peoples of Easterville, Manitoba, scratch out livings anyway they can. Some hunt in the Canadian wilderness like their forebears. Shelly Lynn Chartier allegedly did her fishing and trapping on the Internet.

That’s where she snagged the Heat’s Birdman.

Chartier is the 29-year-old trickster and Internet hacker who stands accused of nearly ruining the name of basketball player Chris Andersen, Miami’s colorfully tattooed forward who became an unlikely star of the team’s championship run in June.

Next month, Chartier is scheduled to appear before a court in her small Manitoba town for charges of possessing and transmitting child pornography, personation, extortion and uttering threats. For about a year, she allegedly posed as Andersen and others on the Internet.

It’s an enormous relief for Andersen to have his personal nightmare behind him, says Mark Bryant, Andersen’s attorney and agent. Andersen declined comment for this story, deferring to Bryant.

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“Chris is very melancholy about it,” said Bryant. “There’s no celebration in being a victim.”

The Winnipeg Free Press newspaper reported that Chartier’s mother, Delia, took to Facebook last week to defend her daughter. “I’m shaking my head in disbelief at how people around here are so quick to judge, when in fact they don’t know the whole story," the mother wrote. "I love my daughter. I believe she’s a good person.”

The bizarre and complex tale of how Andersen went from cult icon with the Denver Nuggets, to having his Colorado home raided for suspicion of child pornography, to unemployed before the Heat took a chance on him and signed him last January begins with Chartier.

Bryant says authorities fully disclosed to him and Andersen that Chartier hacked his client’s computer, assumed Andersen’s identity through his Facebook account and then assumed the identity of a 17-year-old girl who had been sending Andersen fan mail. From there, according to Andersen’s attorney, Chartier allegedly impersonated both Andersen and the 17-year-old and played one against the other in an effort to extort Andersen for money and gifts, including a Victoria’s Secret wish list.

“On the Internet, people do not always communicate with whom they think they’re communicating with,” said Sgt. Line Karpish, a spokesperson for Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which arrested Chartier in January. “I don’t know how it is in Miami, but up here in Canada we have plenty of people always trying to find some way to scam you out of your money or your identity.”

Chartier, who is out on bail until her court appearance, lives with her mother in a remote Canadian fishing village of less than 100 people. Easterville, a speck of nearly nothing on the shores of Cedar Lake, is populated by displaced First Nation aboriginals whose lives and culture and history were uprooted from their native lands in the 1960s to make room for a hydroelectric dam.

“You blink and miss it,” Karpish said. “It’s a small, small aboriginal community here.”

It was there, in a little bedroom, in a little house, in a little hamlet of despair that Chartier allegedly put into motion a Birdman-catfish-butterfly effect that started with a reply on Facebook but ended, after months of chain reactions that would astound even the most ardent subscribers of chaos theory, with Andersen clutching the Larry O’Brien Trophy inside AmericanAirlines Arena.

So, how exactly did she do it? How did Chartier impersonate two lovers at the same time and allegedly pull off what is known colloquially as a “catfish hoax” so complex that it makes the duping of former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o seem mundane by comparison?

First, picture a triangle. Now picture Chartier representing the top of that triangle and Andersen and the 17-year-old representing opposite sides of the triangle’s base. Bryant said all Internet information between Andersen and the 17-year-old was controlled by Chartiers, who hovered constantly like some grand Internet puppeteer.

She allegedly engineered the exchange of explicit photos between the 17-year-old — who authorities have not identified — and Andersen. Chartier, according to Bryant, later orchestrated a meeting between Andersen and the teen, who then flew to Colorado for a tryst with the Birdman. The legal age of consent in Colorado is 17.

The 17-year-old then returned to her home in Los Angeles after her fling with an NBA star, and that’s when things took another twist. Chartier went back to work under her assumed identities, but this time she allegedly began threatening both Andersen and the teenager.

Chartier allegedly sent graphic photos to the 17-year-old from Andersen’s email account. Frightened of the threats she believed were being made by Andersen, the 17-year-old went to the cops in California and implicated him. Police in California then contacted law enforcement in Colorado because the photos were considered child pornography.

That’s when Andersen’s world imploded.

Armed with a warrant of search and seizure, investigators raided Andersen’s Colorado home in May of 2012. Andersen was playing for the Nuggets at the time and was in the middle of a playoff series against the Lakers. The Nuggets initially suspended Andersen from team activities and then later released him.

But Andersen was never charged. Instead, he suffered in limbo thinking that his basketball career might be over. People close to Andersen believed his story, that he did nothing wrong, but the investigation was a lengthy one and Andersen’s reputation appeared ruined.

“You can imagine what this was like for [Andersen],” Bryant said. “Every eye you’re looking at, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, does this person think I’m a pedophile?’ He was never arrested. There was only a warrant executed on the house under the suspicion of child pornography.”

Bryant says police in Colorado learned fairly early on that Andersen wasn’t to blame, but asked for cooperation from Andersen not to talk about the case while the true culprit was being unearthed.

“It just kept getting more bizarre,” Bryant said.

After confiscating all of Andersen’s computers and smartphones, including his X-Box, the Douglas County Internet Crimes Against Children Unit hit a dead end in its investigation of Andersen. Nothing incriminating could be linked to any of his electronics.

“They weren’t finding the IP address they were looking for,” Bryant said.

That’s because the entire scam allegedly was being pulled off from somewhere in Manitoba, Canada. The investigators eventually got wise to the ruse and contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Mounties took it from there. Chartier was arrested on Jan. 15. Andersen signed with the Heat on Jan. 20.

“They did their risk assessment,” Bryant said of the Heat. “I flew down there and told them what I knew: ‘I can tell you, he didn’t do anything wrong.’ Holy hallelujah for the guru Pat Riley.”

Bryant went on a media blitz last week to clear Andersen’s name before the start of training camp, which begins Tuesday in the Bahamas. The Douglas County (Colo.) District Attorney’s office also released a statement confirming that it was not pursuing charges of any kind against Andersen.

Bryant said investigators for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Douglas County, Colo., contacted him during the Heat’s playoff run to schedule a meeting with Andersen and explain how he was duped. To avoid causing an unwanted distraction for the team, Bryant said he and Andersen delayed their meeting until after the postseason.

“Seven or 10 days after the championship he’s unhappy as hell,” Bryant said of Andersen. “He’s like, ‘Dude, I want my name back,’ and I said, ‘Dude, that’s my championship. I’m getting your name back.’”

At the meeting with the case’s investigators, a constable with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a Douglas County detective explained with charts and graphics how Andersen was scammed.

“He and I kept looking at each other like, ‘What and what and what?’” Bryant said. “Chris is looking at this chart and saying, ‘Why am I over here?’ and he’s just shaking his head and I said, ‘Dude, they couldn’t make this [expletive] up.’”

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