Teller who admitted helping with heist not allowed to back out of guilty plea, judge rules

A judge has ruled that a former Calgary teller who regretted pleading guilty for her role in a bank heist because she didn't like the consequences will not be allowed to back out of her plea.

Kenza Belakziz, 24, could be deported to Morocco if she's sentenced to more than 6 months in jail

Kenza Belakziz worked at a Calgary BMO branch when she provided her boyfriend confidential information so he and his friends could rob the bank. She later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

A former Calgary bank teller who regretted pleading guilty for her role in a heist because she didn't like the consequences will not be allowed to back out of her plea.

"This was a very difficult question and I don't mind telling you I struggled with it," Justice David Gates said Friday before denying Kenza Belakziz's application to vacate her guilty plea.

Sitting in the prisoner's box, Belakziz shook her head and wiped tears from her eyes.

Belakziz, who is now 24, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery in October after defence lawyer Greg Dunn and prosecutors Vicki Faulkner and Ryan Jenkins arranged the deal. She signed a document confirming she understood the judge was not bound by the sentence proposed by the lawyers.

Her sentencing hearing was stalled when the judge told lawyers he felt their proposal for six months in jail was too low.

At that time, Gates said the sentence appeared "to be tailored for immigration factors."

Originally from Morocco, Belakziz is the only member of her family who has not made the effort to become a Canadian citizen. A sentence of more than six months would mean she is likely to be deported to Morocco, where she no longer has family.

Gates had expressed his belief that Belakziz's deportation concerns should not mean a lesser sentence than others who committed the same crime. 

When the judge refused to accept the sentence the lawyers had proposed and suggested a higher sentence was necessary, Belakziz tried to back out of her plea.

Employees held at gunpoint

She worked at the BMO branch in the southwest neighbourhood of Mission when she provided confidential information about the bank to her then-boyfriend, Saleem Nasery.

She admitted to giving Nasery information on the layout of the bank, the silent alarm, locations where money was stored and details on bait bills and dye packs.

Nasery and two others then robbed the institution in November 2014, tying up employees and holding them hostage at gunpoint. 

By the time the trio of robbers — Nasery, Lucas Windsor and Matthew Valdes — left the bank after 20 minutes, with about $12,000 in two bags, police had already set up outside.

Inside job

Initially, investigators believed Belakziz was a victim before they realized it was an inside job. She was charged a month later. 

Gates noted the starting point for a conviction of conspiracy to commit robbery is five years in prison, but mitigating factors can bring that down significantly. 

Some of the victims — bank employees who had been zip tied together and held hostage — wrote statements describing how the robbery traumatized them and changed their lives forever.

Nasery pleaded guilty in October 2017 to robbery with a firearm, forcible confinement and wearing a disguise. He was sentenced to six years in prison, less time served.

The other robbers, Valdes and Windsor, pleaded guilty in 2015. Valdes received a 5½-year sentence for his role while Windsor got a five-year, two-month prison term.

Belakziz will be back in court next week when lawyers will set another date for a sentencing hearing.

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.