A man described by police as one of the most sophisticated criminal masterminds they've ever seen was sentenced to eight years in prison Wednesday in a case that involved a global theft ring and terrorist financing.
Prior to being sentenced on Wednesday, Gerald Daniel Blanchard, 35, agreed to plead guilty in a Winnipeg courtto 16 charges for his involvement in robberies and fraud schemes acrossCanada and abroad.
Taking into account a year spent in pretrial custody, six years remain in his sentence. He will also pay $500,000 in restitution to the victims of his schemes.
The Court of Queen's Bench also learned Wednesday that Blanchard's criminal organization found out that the proceeds of one of his crimes had been funnelled to Kurdish rebels and possibly other groups.
Aside from orchestrating robberies at financial institutions in Alberta, Manitoba, and B.C.— including the Alberta Treasury Branch— Blanchard's organization madean overseas trip on behalf of a London-based man the Crown would only refer to as "the Boss," court heard.
Blanchard and two Canadians went to Egypt to use fraudulently obtained credit cards and debit information, sometimes wearing burkas to conceal their faces as they withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from financial institutions.
'He's not of the same ilkasa lot of the criminals that we normally deal with.' — Insp. Tom Legge
They then sent some of the proceeds to "the Boss" in England, the Crown said.
In wiretap recordingscited in court, Blanchard could be heard saying the boss would be using the money to finance activities of Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.
Crown Attorney Sheila Leinburd wouldn't give the name of the London connection, but said European police and Scotland Yard know who "the Boss" is. It is not yet clear whether he's been arrested.
In another twist, Blanchard admitted in court that among a string of thefts he committed, he was able to swipe the Sisi Star, a diamond-and-pearl piece of jewelry that belonged to a former empress of Austria. Police found the pendant at a house in Vancouver.
Thanked police for diligence
In court Wednesday, Blanchard extended his thanks to police for their diligence in the investigation.
Outside the courthouse after the sentencing, Winnipeg police Insp. Tom Legge described Blanchard as charming and uncommonly gifted at what he did.
"The things that came out in court today that defence said — that[Blanchard] seemed to care very much about the people he was involved in —we saw that, as well. He's not of the same ilkasa lot of the criminals that we normally deal with. So it's just a bit of a change for us," Legge said.
'His mother indicated that he … was always very good at taking apart toys … and I think probably that curiosity in life has obviously served him to develop his skills.' — Lawyer Danny Gunn
"His ability to plan, his ability to surveilpossible criminal targets, his knowledge of electronics that he picked up on his own, the way he carried out his business, the way he organized his own criminal organization, was something that, in combination, and the various offences and crimes that he was involved in, the diversity of them, is something that we'd never seen,"Legge said.
Danny Gunn, the lawyer representing Blanchard, said a childhood fascination with finding out how things work may have contributed to his criminal success.
"His mother indicated that he, from a young age, was always very good at taking apart toys, and dismantling them effectively. And I think probably that curiosity in life has obviously served him to develop his skills," Gunn said.
He described his client as quiet, soft-spoken and straightforward.
"Obviously he went through a lot after the initial arrest," he said. "His entire life came crashing down around him, but ultimately, [he's] resilient and able to sort of put together the pieces of what was his former life and look forward to something else."
Gunn said Blanchard has already been approached bypeople in the banking industry who are interested in his electronic expertise.
Blanchard was arrested in January after an investigation led by Winnipeg police in 2004. The arrest followed the brazen robbery of a Winnipeg CIBC branch in which $500,000 was stolen from the bank the day before its grand opening.
Blanchard's agreement to plead guilty did not include the other seven co-accused named in the two-year police operation called Project Kitethat followed the heist.
Blanchard could have faced a maximum sentence of a total of 160 years in prison for the 16 charges to which he pleaded guilty. He had faced 54 charges before he agreed to the guilty plea.
Gerald Daniel Blanchard agreed to plead guilty and was sentenced in Court of Queen's Bench, not in provincial court, as originally reported. Robberies were carried out in Alberta, Manitoba and B.C., but not in Montreal, and Blanchard made only one overseas trip.Nov 08, 2007 8:46 AM CT