A Monroe woman convicted of more than 100 felonies in connection with a string of thefts in Amherst County was given a lengthy suspended sentence Monday, and a judge ordered her to complete a program or risk significant prison time.
Lauren Alyssa Branham, 26, was arrested in early February along with her husband, Charles Wesley Branham, following a police chase in Lynchburg. At an Oct. 30 hearing in Amherst Circuit Court, she was found guilty of three counts of grand larceny, possession of a gun as a felon, possession of heroin, larceny of a credit card, 97 counts of stealing property from residents in a series of mail thefts, four counts of violating probation and a misdemeanor count of petit larceny.
The Amherst County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation of the thefts found a number of items valued at $545 were stolen from the Izaak Walton Park’s skeet shooting range in Madison Heights, a prosecutor said at the Oct. 30 hearing.
The sheriff’s office also investigated reports of items valued at more than $1,200 stolen from a local church while tools valued at $3,105 were stolen from a Madison Heights-based construction company, according to prosecutors’ evidence.
In late January 2019, the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at a residence on Cedar Gate Road where the couple lived and found items from the string of thefts and heroin, according to prosecutors.
Nearly 100 of the felony charges centered on theft of mail from various residents, the bulk of which took place in the Elon and Monroe areas, prosecutors have said.
In December 2018, the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office began receiving complaints of missing mail and checks that had been fraudulently cashed in surrounding counties, authorities have said. Investigators recovered more than 500 pieces of stolen mail from 145 different homes in Amherst County, the sheriff’s office has said.
The couple was arrested while in a stolen vehicle following a late-night police pursuit, the Lynchburg Police Department has said. The two were attempting to steal another vehicle at the time, according to police.
Charles Branham was found guilty in Amherst Circuit Court in July on four felony counts of grand larceny, one count of stealing a credit card and one felony count of possessing heroin. He was sentenced to 50 years, all suspended, on those charges after a prosecutor said the plea agreement largely was driven by the defendant cooperating with investigators, saving a lot of time and resources.
At Lauren Branham’s sentencing hearing Monday in Amherst Circuit Court, Amherst County Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Amber Drumheller said the commonwealth felt the best form of punishment would be a suspended sentence on the condition the defendant complete the state’s Community Corrections Alternative Program. CCAP is a sentencing option for those convicted of nonviolent crimes that emphasizes re-entry and transitional services.
Lauren Branham will be in custody while undergoing the program, Judge Michael Garrett said while sentencing her. Garrett gave her a suspended sentence for the 105 felonies she was found guilty of and issued a stern warning. The sentencing guidelines called for a low of five years and a high of 16 years and she would be lucky to get it if she came before him again, he said.
“You’re at the end of the road,” Garrett told the defendant.
Garrett said the series of crimes caused many people a lot of aggravation and ordered she be drug free and undergo screening as part of her suspended sentence. “The citizens of Amherst County shouldn’t have to put up with it,” Garrett said to Lauren Branham.
Garrett also ordered she pay $545 in restitution to the Izaak Walton League and serve probation for 25 years upon her release, three of which are supervised.
“This is your last chance,” Garrett said.