Monday, 26 February 2024

Mendocino County authorities investigate massive mail theft case

Stolen mail recovered during the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office investigation. Courtesy photo.

NORTH COAST, Calif. — Authorities are investigating what they said is a massive fraud and mail theft case that they believe has more than 100 victims throughout inland Mendocino County.

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jay Vanoven said Sharon Kathleen Smith, 43, of Potter Valley and Charles Maxfield, 46, of Willits have been identified as the suspects in the case.

Shortly after 1 a.m. Sept. 25, Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle in the area of West Road and Spring Valley Road in Potter Valley, Vanoven said.

He said a resident noticed a vehicle parked near mail boxes in the area and believed the occupants may have been stealing mail. As the resident approached the vehicle, it sped away and was last seen in the area of Spring Valley Road.

The first responding deputy encountered the vehicle, a 2004 Ford Focus, on Spring Valley Road. Vanoven said the deputy noticed the vehicle came to an abrupt stop before he made contact with it.

As the deputy approached the vehicle on foot, he noticed the driver seat was vacant. When the deputy contacted the passenger, Sharon Smith, he heard what sounded like a person running away through the nearby brush, Vanoven said.

Vanoven said evidence later found within the vehicle identified the driver as Charles Maxfield, who was known to be on Post Release Community Supervision, or PRCS, for convictions related to mail theft. Maxfield was also known to have an outstanding arrest warrant for violating the terms of his PRCS.

Additional deputies arrived and searched the area for Maxfield but were unsuccessful, Vanoven said.

A search of the vehicle revealed a massive amount of mail and numerous identification documents, none of which were addressed or issued to Maxfield or Smith. Vanoven said deputies also located in the vehicle numerous blank checks, a laptop computer and a portable color printer.

Sharon Kathleen Smith, 43, of Potter Valley, California, was arrested on Saturday, September 25, 2021, on charges related to a fraud and mail theft case. Mendocino County Jail photo.

A photocopy of a California Identification Card depicting Maxfield was located with the printer. The ID card contained the full identification of a person other than Maxfield, Vanoven said.

Based on this initial investigation, deputies determined Maxfield and Smith were in fact actively stealing mail, and using the identifying information gathered from the mail, to commit fraudulent and felonious acts.

Smith was arrested and booked into the Mendocino County Jail on charges of felony defrauding or acquiring personal identifying information and conspiracy to commit a crime, and a misdemeanor probation violation.

A search warrant for Smith's residence, located in Potter Valley, was secured and served. Vanoven said no additional evidence was located.

Based on the nature of the crimes, a request to increase bail and to restrict the source of bail was granted by a Mendocino County Superior Court judge. Vanoven said Smith's bail was set at "no bail" and should bail be set, she will be required to prove that the funds used to post bail were not feloniously obtained before bail will be granted.

Maxfield remains outstanding at this time, Vanoven said.

Vanoven said further investigation of the evidence revealed no less than 100 separated victims' identifying information had been acquired by Smith and Maxfield.

This information likely had been used, or was being possessed with the intent to use, in the commission of multiple felonious offenses, Vanoven said.

Deputies, with the assistance of the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office Investigations Division, are continuing to follow up with victims related to this case, according to Vanoven’s report.

Vanoven said mail was found addressed to persons in Ukiah, Calpella, Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Reeves Canyon and Willits.

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