Former international 'criminal mastermind' charged with shoplifting in Burlington

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Former international 'criminal mastermind' charged with shoplifting in Burlington

A man once identified by police as a "criminal mastermind" has been arrested in Burlington, Ont., in connection with shoplifting from a Best Buy store and a smash and grab of over $3,000 worth of electronics from a parked car.

The charges are small time for a man who was once one of the most famous criminals in Canada.

The accused is Gerald Blanchard, 45, of Vancouver, who was sentenced to prison in 2007 for his role in an international fraud and theft ring.

Halton police say he was arrested on March 3 in connection with the January thefts. Blanchard has been charged with two counts of theft under $5,000 and one count of mischief under $5,000.

Police say two men followed a customer inside a Burlington Costco as the customer bought a number of electronics on Jan. 14 before following the same person to a nearby Best Buy.

According to police, one of the suspects called Best Buy pretending to be a fraud investigator, telling Best Buy that the customer they had followed from Costco was suspicious. Police say that while Best Buy employees started following the innocent shopper, the two suspects made several trips out of the store with stolen items.

​From there, police say, the two men followed the same Costco shopper from Best Buy to an underground parking lot on Lakeshore Road in Burlington, where they smashed a passenger window before taking everything that was inside.

Police told CBC News the suspects' vehicle was caught on camera in the underground parking lot along with its licence plate. An investigation into the vehicle led to Blanchard being arrested. 

Halton police say Blanchard turned himself in after they contacted him.

Blanchard's criminal history has been well-documented in Canada. One CBC news story says he lived "a jet-set lifestyle under several assumed identities, using elaborate disguises and high-tech surveillance equipment" to pull off his heists.

In one audacious theft in 1998, he posed as a tourist in a Vienna castle before swiping the priceless Star of the Empress Sisi from an encased display — leaving a gift-shop replica in its place.

The 19th-century diamond-and-pearl heirloom was later found stashed at the home of one of Blanchard's relatives in Winnipeg.

Blanchard was once a key figure behind an international fraud and theft ring that stole millions from banks and financial institutions before being arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison by a Manitoba court. Blanchard was formally released in British Columbia on April 23, 2012, according to Parole Board of Canada documents obtained by CBC News under an Access to Information request. 

Police are trying to identify a second suspect they say helped steal the electronics from the parked car.

According to police, Blanchard was released on bail and will appear in Milton court on March 29.