Gerald Blanchard, described by police as the mastermind behind one of the most sophisticated criminal groups to operate in Canada, agreed to plead guilty to several charges in a Winnipeg courtroom Friday.

Blanchard, 35, has been described as the ringleader in a criminal organization accused of bank robberies, identity thefts, credit-card fraud and even the theft of a priceless diamond brooch from a museum in Austria.

The agreement between the Crown and Blanchard's lawyer, Danny Gunn, is essentially an amalgamation of many of the 54 charges he faced.

Blanchard appeared quiet and pale as heagreedin provincial court to plead guilty to 15 of the charges, including the theft of a rare diamond and pearl piececalled the Sisi Star, which disappeared from a castle in Austria in 1998 despite heavy security.

Blanchard has agreed to plead guilty to possession of the jewel, as well as thefts from financial institutions in Manitoba and Alberta, including the Alberta Treasury Branch.

Other charges against Blanchardwere stayed, including counselling to commit attempted murder and kidnapping. Blanchard had been accused of counselling another man to kill a former girlfriend and co-accused in the case.

The arrangement on Blanchard's charges does not include the other seven co-accused named in a police operation called Project Kite.

Court documents related to that investigation, which involved several police agencies, provide a glimpse into a sophisticated operation in which complex electronic and computer equipment was allegedly used to copy credit cards and retail gift cards.

The Project Kite investigation began in May 2004 after a break-in at a CIBC bank branch in Winnipeg's Polo Park area, in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen from newly installed ATMs.

A charge related to that crime is among the others to which Blanchard will plead guilty under the agreement.

Blanchard is expected to appear before a Court of Queen's Bench justice in the next few weeks to formally plead guilty to the charges.

Corrections

  • The thefts occurred at the Alberta Treasury Branch, not the Alberta Treasury Board, as originally reported.
    Nov 08, 2007 1:30 PM CT