Arsonist alleges he was coerced by his boss into setting condo fire

A man has pleaded guilty to arson in the March 2014 fire that destroyed a Windermere condominium development that was under construction in south Edmonton.

'You were persuaded, duped, bullied into taking part,' judge tells Jeremy Thibert

The fire at the Windermere condo in south Edmonton caused $6.5 million in damages. (Courtesy: Jason Cruse)

The boss woke Jeremy Thibert in the middle of the night.

Three weeks of pressure and an offer of $6,000 had finally convinced the young man to go along with the plan.

The two men went outside and hopped in a truck, and together drove through the dark, quiet streets to the Windermere condominiums, a complex still under construction in south Edmonton.

The boss, a construction framer, knew where the cameras were placed, knew the gate was open. He told Thibert where to find several tubes of highly flammable glue inside the half-constructed building.
Jeremy Thibert pleaded guilty Thursday to arson for setting a $6.5-million condominium fire in 2014. (Facebook)

He pulled out a set of blueprints and showed Thibert exactly where the glue was.

Thibert walked inside the fence, went up to the second and third floors, and poured a Gatorade bottle full of gasoline on the glue cases. He used his lighter to start the fire.

It was 3:14 a.m.

Then the two men drove away.

The fire Thibert started that night in March 2014 burned the complex to the ground. The total damage was more than $6 million.

On Thursday, Thibert, 23, pleaded guilty to arson and conspiracy to commit arson. He was sentenced to two years in jail and one year of probation for the part he played that night.

The facts of the case were presented in a joint submission by the Crown and the defence.

"This is a case where Mr. Thibert was pressured by his former brother-in-law, his employer, his landlord," said Crown prosecutor Kevin Mark.

According to the joint submission, Thibert's boss knew there were deficiencies in the framing work he'd done on the complex. So he hatched a plan to burn it down and cover up the shoddy work.

Defence lawyer Chady Moustarah argued his 23-year-old client has no criminal record.

'A quintessential case of bullying'

"This case is the quintessential case of bullying," he said.

The police launched a massive investigation into the fire.

"This wasn't a full Mr. Big situation," Moustarah said, "but there were undercover officers who posed as construction workers to try and get the truth."

Thibert eventually confessed, his story recorded on videotape.

The defence noted that the young man only got $3,000 of the money he'd been promised.

Moustarah told court his client made "a bad decision" after he was taunted, bullied and frightened.

Thibert, he said, "didn't realize the extent of damage his involvement would cause."

Judge Kirk Macdonald called the act of setting the fire "incredibly" dangerous.

"It was done, in part, for a mercenary purpose, and you were persuaded, duped, bullied into taking part," the judge told Thibert. "The two years of your life you're giving up is a high price to pay for $3,000 in lost wages."

He told the young man that had he not confessed he might have faced a sentence of four to seven years in prison.

Asked if he had anything to say, Thibert told the court: "I'm sorry for what I've done. I will never do it again. I promise."

Courtroom guards gave Thibert time to hold his new baby, and hug his girlfriend, before they placed him in handcuffs and led him away.

Of the 79 units in the Windermere complex, at 10th Avenue and 173rd Street, 50 had been sold by March 2014. The first tenants were set to move sometime that summer.

The co-accused in the case, Eric Gould, faces charges of arson, conspiracy, public mischief and fraud.

No date has yet been set for a preliminary hearing in his case.