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Case Number: 3:20-cr-05005-BHS
Judge: Benjamin H. Settle
Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Washington (Pierce County)
Plaintiff's Attorney: William Kennelly Dreher
Description: Tacoma, WA - The United States of America charged Michael Wayne Pickering with Conspiracy to Commit Theft Within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States.
A repeat offender who victimized more than 40 hikers and campers in National Parks across western Washington was sentenced to two years in federal prison to follow a 25 month state prison term. MICHAEL WAYNE PICKERING, 41, of Aberdeen, Washington, prowled at least four dozen cars at more than seven different trailheads and parking lots stretching from Mount Rainier National Park to Third Beach on the Pacific coast, to trailheads in the interior of the Olympic Peninsula’s national park and forest. At the sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle called the crimes “planned and methodical,” and ordered PICKERING to serve three years of supervised release following prison.
“The victims in this case didn’t just suffer a financial loss, they were emotionally damaged as well,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. “Some returned from what was supposed to be a relaxing time in nature, to find themselves stranded with a damaged vehicle, their electronics, clothes and money stolen, marooned in the national forest, with no cell phone service. For some it has forever changed their interest in outdoor activities.”
According to records filed in the case, on March 28, 2019, PICKERING and his girlfriend smashed windows and stole thousands of dollars of equipment from vehicles parked at the Graves Creek Trailhead and Fletcher Canyon Trailhead in Olympic National Park. This was the beginning of a month-long theft spree. PICKERING and his girlfriend used credit and debit cards stolen from the vehicles to make purchases at various stores – the overall financial damage was more than $50,000. PICKERING was only stopped when he was caught shortly after walking out of a store where he used victims’ bank cards, with a window punch (a tool used to break car windows), and three credit cards in a victim’s name in his pocket.
PICKERING did not just take credit and debit cards. He stole expensive electronics, car and house keys, and even diaries, clean clothes, make-up, and toiletries. When law enforcement searched his residence, they found PICKERING had been stockpiling much of the gear he stole or selling it online. He used the stolen debit and credit cards to buy himself luxuries such a flat screen TVs, gaming systems, a drone, and clothes.
Victims wrote to the Court about how the car prowls violated their sense of safety and changed their attitude toward camping. Some of the comments include:
It’s really hard to feel so unsafe in the outdoors, which is where I usually find peace and solace. . .
The crime happened on the last day of a hiking/camping/backpacking trip with friends. I took what otherwise was a great vacation and made it very sour.
We were exhausted and freezing by the time we returned to the trailhead. When we found the truck windows busted out and my luggage stolen it was devastating…We had to drive for nearly an hour with the cold wind and rain coming in through the windows…I have not returned to Washington since this event.
PICKERING has a 15-year history of property crimes in and around Olympic National Park, such as burglary, identity theft, and trespassing.
The case was investigated by rangers from the National Park Service in collaboration with local law enforcement, including Forks Police Department, Mason County Sheriff’s Office, Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office, and the Washington State Patrol.
Conspiracy to Commit Theft Within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States - 18:371
Conspiracy to Commit Access Device Fraud - 18:1029(b)(2)
Aggravated Identity Theft - 18:1028A(a)(1) and 2
Outcome: Defendant was sentenced to 1 day imprisonment on counts 1 & 2, to run concurrent with Clallam County sentence; 24 months imprisonment on count 3, to run consecutive; 3 years supervised release with mandatory, standard & special conditions; $300 special assessment; restitution TBD on 4/13/2020, presence waived.