********Released on behalf of Staff Sergeant Gary Schenk of the Regional Crime Unit. For further information, please contact him at 250-883-4389*********.
A six-month Regional Crime Unit investigation culminated Wednesday night with the arrest of a 46 year old Langley man in Courtenay following the latest in a series of cigarette thefts earlier in the day.
RCU initiated an investigation in June, 2012, following a theft of a large quantity of cigarettes from an unattended vehicle in Saanich. In that case the victim had just returned from purchasing the cigarettes at Costco in Langford and investigators suspected that the victim had been followed home after making the purchase. Police soon identified a number of previous theft cases in Greater Victoria and Nanaimo and suspected that the same person or persons may be responsible for all of them. In each case it appeared that an unsuspecting customer had been followed from either the Langford or Nanaimo Costco stores and their recently purchased cigarettes were stolen at the first opportunity where the suspect could attack their unattended vehicle. As the investigation progressed investigators were able to link a total of 28 cases of cigarette thefts from Costco customers throughout British Columbia, including Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, and the Interior. The thefts occurred in the jurisdictions of Saanich, Langford, Nanaimo, Burnaby, Abbotsford, Coquitlam, and Kamloops.
On August 16, 2012 there was another theft of approximately $2,000 worth of Costco cigarettes from a vehicle in Nanaimo. This was followed the next day by a break and enter of a convenience store in Saanich where approximately $6,300 worth of cigarettes were stolen less than 20 minutes after the store owner had returned from purchasing them at Langford Costco. On September 20, 2012 another theft from vehicle occurred in Nanaimo and approximately $1,800 worth of Costco cigarettes were stolen. In each of these cases RCU investigators were able to gather additional evidence including a description of a possible suspect vehicle.
On December 4, 2012 a store owner purchased approximately $2,800 worth of cigarettes from Costco in Langford and noticed a flat tire on his vehicle as he attempted to drive away. He pulled over on the Costco parking lot to attend to the flat tire and while he was walking away to seek assistance his vehicle was broken into and the cigarettes stolen. Investigation revealed that the victim’s tire had been intentionally slashed to disable his vehicle.
The following day, December 5, 2012, license plates were stolen from an unattended vehicle on the parking lot of the Long Lake Inn in Nanaimo. Shortly thereafter a woman who had just purchased almost $2,000 worth of cigarettes at the Nanaimo Costco had her vehicle broken into and the cigarettes stolen when she stopped at another store on the way home. An anonymous witness left a hand-written note on the victim’s vehicle, reporting that a male who had committed the theft fled in a vehicle bearing the license plates stolen from the Long Lake Inn.
On December 11, 2012, RCU investigators identified a vehicle suspected of having been used in a number of these thefts. Through his association to this vehicle investigators identified 46 year old Christopher SHARAFI of Langley as a possible suspect. Investigators researched SHARAFI’s background and attempted to gather evidence linking him to the various crimes under investigation.
On December 27, 2012 a woman purchased approximately $3,000 worth of cigarettes from Costco in Langford. She stopped at another grocery store on the way home and returned to find her vehicle broken into and the cigarettes stolen. Follow-up investigation of this incident allowed police to gather evidence showing that SHARAFI had travelled from Langley to Victoria the day before the theft, and then caught the last ferry back to the lower mainland immediately after the theft.
On January 22, 2013 SHARAFI again travelled from Langley to Nanaimo. After waiting on the Costco parking lot for over six hours, SHARAFI finally departed when Costco closed for the day. On January 23, 2013 SHARAFI returned to the parking lot of the Nanaimo Costco as it opened for business. At approximately 1500 hrs. RCU officers observed SHARAFI follow a vehicle from Costco to a nearby restaurant. At this time SHARAFI had the license plate stolen December 5, 2012 from the Long Lake Inn in Nanaimo attached to his vehicle. When the unsuspecting driver entered the restaurant SHARAFI donned a disguise, smashed the window out of the vehicle and stole approximately $3,200 worth of cigarettes which the victim had just purchased at Costco. SHARAFI was followed from Nanaimo to Courtenay where he was observed to park near the entrance to the Courtenay Costco store. At this point plainclothes RCU officers identified themselves to SHARAFI and he was arrested without incident. Inside SHARAFI’s vehicle officers located the cigarettes stolen in Nanaimo, a wig that SHARAFI had worn to disguise his appearance, a number of break-in tools, and two different stolen license plates.
SHARAFI was returned to Victoria for a telebail hearing on Thursday morning. At this point SHARAFI has been charged with a total of 13 offences, including four counts each of Mischief Under $5000 and Theft Under $5000, two counts of Possession of Stolen Property Under $5000, and one count each of Disguise With Intent, Possession of Break-In Instruments, and Fail to Comply With Condition of Recognizance. SHARAFI has been remanded in custody to appear in Western Communities Provincial Court on Monday, January 28, 2012. The investigation is continuing and additional charges are anticipated.
During this investigation Regional Crime Unit investigators shared information and requested assistance from RCMP detachments in Nanaimo, Langley, and Kamloops, West Shore, and Courtenay, as well as Saanich Police. The successful outcome was the direct result of outstanding cooperation between all agencies involved in the investigation.
This case dramatically illustrates the importance of being vigilant to suspicious behaviour or activity and to report these to the police at every opportunity. The public is also reminded to take precautions to store valuables and not leave them unattended at any time.
The Regional Crime Unit is an integrated unit comprised of police officers from the Saanich Police Department, Oak Bay Police Department, Central Saanich Police Service, West Shore Detachment RCMP as well as Provincial RCMP. Since February 2008 the Regional Crime Unit has been pursuing its mandate of proactively targeting the region’s most prolific criminal offenders.