TACOMA — An Aberdeen man has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for breaking into vehicles at national park trailheads and parking lots.
Michael Wayne Pickering, 41, prowled at least four dozen vehicles at more than seven trailheads and parking lots in Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Emily Langlie said.
He will serve the federal prison sentence after he completes a 25-month state prison sentence, Langlie said.
Pickering pleaded guilty Feb. 26 to single counts of conspiracy to commit theft, conspiracy to commit access device fraud and aggravated identity theft, federal court papers said.
He was sentenced March 11 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington at Tacoma.
Investigators said 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 on March 28, 2019.
“This was the beginning of a month-long theft spree,” Langlie said after Pickering’s sentencing.
“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,” Langlie said.
“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.”
Investigators said Pickering stole electronics, car and house keys, diaries, clean clothes, makeup and toiletries.
“When law enforcement searched his residence, they found Pickering had been stockpiling much of the gear he stole or selling it online,” Langlie said.
“He used the stolen debit and credit cards to buy himself luxuries such as flat screen TVs, gaming systems, a drone and clothes.”
Pickering was charged in Clallam County Superior Court last May with five counts of second-degree identity theft and three counts of second-degree possession of stolen property for crimes that occurred in April 2019.
His girlfriend, Mercedes R. Lemieux, 26, also of Aberdeen, was charged with four counts of second-degree identity theft and four counts of second-degree possession of stolen property for her role in the same crimes.
Forks police alleged that Pickering and Lemieux broke into a vehicle that was parked at the Third Beach trailhead and stole a Visa and Mastercard, which were used to purchase $1,000 in gift cards from Forks Outfitters last April 16.
Lemieux and Pickering allegedly broke into other vehicles at Graves Creek trailhead in the Quinault River valley and stole other credit cards April 28-29 last year, Forks Police Officer Julie Goode said in court papers.
Eight victims provided impact statements before Pickering’s sentencing in federal court.
“I’m super paranoid about leaving anything in my car, to the point that I plan my trips around how much gear I can travel and how to minimize anything left in the car,” a victim identified as A.F. said in federal court papers.
“It’s really hard to feel so unsafe in the outdoors, which is where I usually find peace and solace.”
A victim identified as D.W. said Pickering’s crimes soured a vacation to the Olympic Peninsula.
“Instead of being relaxed and ready to get back to regular life, I felt anxious, frustrated and annoyed,” D.W said.
“When people tell me they are going to Olympic, I give them warnings about trailhead crime,” a victim identified as L.I. said.
“I know it happens everywhere, but I will always associate that park with crime now.”
Pickering has a 15-year history of property crimes in and around Olympic National Park, such as burglary, identity theft and trespassing, Langlie said.
The federal case was investigated by U.S. Park Rangers at Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks, assisted by a special agent of the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch, and it was conducted in conjunction with Forks, La Push and Hoquiam police, the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office and the State Patrol, Olympic National Park spokeswoman Penny Wagner said.
Pickering will be on community supervision for three years after his release from federal prison.
He was being held Tuesday at the Olympic Corrections Center in west Jefferson County.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].