Man Charged with Theft After Vehicle Found with Items from Hundreds of Victims

Michael Ward Cooper’s vehicle was filled with thousands of dollars worth of checks, clothing, books and holiday gifts

By Andy Viano

A 36-year-old man has been charged with felony theft after Whitefish police located stolen items linked to an estimated 463 victims in a vehicle he was allegedly driving.

Michael Ward Cooper has been in custody at the Flathead County Detention Center since Jan. 8. Cooper could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

According to charging documents, a patrol officer with the Whitefish Police Department (WPD) located a suspicious man kneeling next to a parked car in downtown Whitefish at 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 22. The man left before the officer could investigate but the car’s license plate was linked to Cooper, who had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. At 3:15 a.m., someone returned to the vehicle and drove away with the WPD officer following.

The vehicle was reportedly driving “in an elusive manner,” cutting through alleys and exceeding the speed limit, so the officer attempted to conduct a traffic stop. When he did, the vehicle stopped abruptly and the driver got out, running from the scene on foot.

The officer was not able to apprehend the driver, alleged to be Cooper, at the time but WPD obtained a warrant to search the vehicle and found drug paraphernalia along with mail, packages and letters connected to recently reported thefts. In total, a detective recovered 32 checks worth $11,936 — including mortgage payments, paychecks, dividend payments and Christmas gifts — plus packages containing clothing, books and other presents with an estimated value in the thousands of dollars. The detective has identified “approximately 463 victims,” according to court filings.

Last year, Cooper pleaded guilty to criminal possession of dangerous drugs and agreed to a three-year suspended sentence. He did not comply with the conditions of his release, however, and a warrant was issued for his arrest in May.

Cooper’s next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 28 at 1:30 p.m.

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