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Thorough as ever, Blanchard had spent many previous nights infiltrating the bank to do recon or to tamper with the locks while James acted as lookout, scanning the vicinity with binoculars and providing updates via a scrambled-band walkie-talkie.
He had put a transmitter behind an electrical outlet, a pinhole video camera in a thermostat, and a cheap baby monitor behind the wall. He had even mounted handles on the drywall panels so he could remove them to enter and exit the ATM room. Blanchard had also taken detailed measurements of the room and set up a dummy version in a friend's nearby machine shop. With practice, he had gotten his ATM-cracking routine down to where he needed only 90 seconds after the alarm tripped to finish and escape with his score. As Blanchard approached, he saw that the door to the ATM room was unlocked and wide open.
Sometimes you get lucky.
All he had to do was walk inside. From here he knew the drill by heart. There were seven machines, each with four drawers. He set to work quickly, using just the right technique to spring the machines open without causing any telltale damage.
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Well rehearsed, Blanchard wheeled out boxes full of cash and several money counters, locked the door behind him, and headed to a van he had parked nearby. However, the officers found the doors locked and assumed the alarm had been an error. As the police pronounced the bank secure, Blanchard was zipping away with more than half a million dollars.
The following morning was a puzzler for authorities. There were no indications of damage to the door, no fingerprints, and no surveillance recordings — Blanchard had stolen the hard drives that stored footage from the bank's cameras. Moreover, Blanchard's own surveillance equipment was still transmitting from inside the ATM room, so before he skipped town, he could listen in on investigators. He knew their names; he knew their leads. He would call both the bank manager's cell phone and the police, posing as an anonymous informant who had been involved in the heist and was swindled out of his share.
Karma caught up to this ketchup thief. Now, Heinz is helping the thief out
It was the contractors, he'd say. Or the Brinks guy. Or the maintenance people. His tips were especially convincing because he had a piece of inside information: One of the bank's ATMs was left untouched.
THIEF OF THIEVES
Blanchard had done that on purpose to make it easier to sow confusion. With the cops outmatched and chasing red herrings, the Winnipeg bank job looked like a perfect crime. Then officials got a call from a vigilant employee at a nearby Walmart, which shared a large parking lot with the bank.
He had been annoyed at people leaving cars there, so he took it upon himself to scan the lot. On the night of the break-in, he spotted a blue Dodge Caravan next to the bank. Seeing a dolly and other odd equipment inside, he took down the license plate number. Police ran it. The vehicle had been rented from Avis by one Gerald Daniel Blanchard. Blanchard's use of his real name was as careless as the fingerprints police found inside the getaway van recovered by the rental company.
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Soon the cops were on his tail. Because of the heist's sophistication, the investigation fell to Winnipeg's Major Crimes unit. But Blanchard — now divorced and living with his girlfriend, Lynette Tien — learned that he had become a suspect, so he stayed out of their sights.
Two years passed, and many of the investigators who had dealt with the initial leads retired or were transferred.
The case went cold until early , when Mitch McCormick, a veteran officer in his fifties, started working on major crimes and decided to take a look at the unsolved robbery. Intrigued, he called his longtime colleague Larry Levasseur, a wiretap ace who had just been transferred to the Commercial Crimes division. Levasseur went through several pints of amber ale, and McCormick had his usual double rye and a Coke tall.
McCormick filled him in on the Blanchard leads and gave him the case file to take home. The two were interested, but McCormick's boss was skeptical. Why spend money chasing a criminal who was committing most of his crimes outside their jurisdiction? Eventually, though, the two stubborn cops made such a fuss that the department brass relented. We knew it was bad when we had to buy our own Post-its. They quickly started filling up those Post-its and arranging them on a corkboard, mapping Blanchard's sprawling network. The case was overwhelming, but they eventually unraveled his tangle of 32 false names.
Their preliminary checks also showed that Blanchard was a person of interest in many crimes, including the unsolved theft of the Sisi Star nearly 10 years earlier. They assembled roughly pages of documentation, enough to persuade a judge to let them tap Blanchard's 18 phones. Now they were in business. They were taking a professional flier on this case. They dubbed their investigation Project Kite. Usually wiretaps are a waiting game ; cops will listen to secretive organized crime syndicates for years, hoping for one little slip.
But Blanchard was surprisingly loose-lipped. The second weekend the wires went live, McCormick and Levasseur heard him directing a team of underlings in a product-return fraud at a Best Buy. More scams followed. They heard him wheeling and dealing in real estate. They listened in as he planned his next bank job. They learned about a vast network of sophisticated crime.
For a smart criminal, McCormick and Levasseur thought, this guy sure did talk a lot.
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I have a job for you. How soon can you get to Cairo? McCormick and Levasseur listened with astonishment as Blanchard immediately set about recruiting his own small team to meet up with another group in Egypt. Blanchard referred to his contact as the Boss — he couldn't pronounce his real name — and explained to his cohorts that there was money to be made with this guy. James was in. But her parents were in town visiting, and her mother didn't want her to go.
James put her mom on the phone so Blanchard could talk the woman into giving her daughter permission to join him in a criminal escapade across the globe. Everything will be fine. Several of his regular guys couldn't make it, so Blanchard called his neighbor, a Congolese immigrant named Balume Kashongwe. When Blanchard explained the job, Kashongwe volunteered right away.
With his team assembled, Blanchard thought, "This is going to be easy. What could go wrong? Blanchard had first met the Boss a few months earlier in London at an electronics store. He could tell they were kindred spirits by a glance at the Boss' purchases: eight DVR recorders. Blanchard knew you didn't buy a load like that for anything but surveillance.
The two struck up a conversation. The Boss filled Blanchard in on his operation, which spanned Europe and the Middle East and included various criminal activities, including counterfeiting and fraud.