AMHERST -- A Monroe woman pleaded guilty Wednesday to just more than 100 felonies in connection with a string of thefts in Amherst County.
Lauren Alyssa Branham, 26, was arrested in early February along with her husband, Charles Wesley Branham, 27, following a police chase in Lynchburg. At a hearing Wednesday 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.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Spencer Drake said in January an Amherst sheriff's deputy spoke with a representative of a skeet shooting range at the Izaak Walton Park in Madison Heights who reported a number of items valued at $545 had been stolen. That same month two other officers 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, Drake said.
In late January the Amherst County Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant of a residence on Cedar Gate Road the couple was residing in and found items from the string of thefts, Drake said. A substance found in a mattress that later tested positive for heroin also was located, Drake said.
Nearly 100 of the felony charges centered on theft of mail from various residents, whose names were stated in court during individual readings of the indictments. The bulk of those mail thefts took place in the Elon and Monroe areas, Drake said.
In December 2018 the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office began receiving complaints of the missing mail and checks that had been fraudulently cashed in surrounding counties, authorities have said. As a result of the complaints and in conjunction with investigations in progress, 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.
Lauren Branham was on probation during the time of the offenses, Drake said. She was sentenced to 10 years, all suspended, in Amherst Circuit Court in October 2018 on four felony charges, two of which were larceny-related, court records show.
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.
Charles Branham at a previous hearing in Amherst General District Court was sentenced to 20 months in jail after he was found guilty of more than 90 counts of petit larceny, with another 20 months of jail time suspended, his attorney said.
Drug use was the driving factor in the thefts, prosecutor Clint Carwile said at Charles Branham's July 24 hearing in Amherst Circuit Court.
As part of his sentence, Charles Branham was ordered to pay $13,131 in restitution along with his wife. Lauren Branham's sentencing hearing is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 6.