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A Montreal man’s two-day visit to Winnipeg has been extended to a 15 month stay at the Crowbar Hotel.
Steevy Berthelot, 18, was one of two men arrested Aug. 26 in connection with a two-day criminal blitz targeting Manitoba Walmart stores.
Berthelot was denied bail following his arrest and in one of the speedier resolutions to a criminal case pleaded guilty Thursday to nine counts of fraudulent use of credit card data.
“The sole reason they came here was to commit credit card fraud,” Crown attorney Peter Edgett told Judge Anne Krahn. “Despite businesses and financial institutions trying to combat these activities, the criminals keep finding a way around it.”
Court heard Berthelot was already on bail for similar offences back home when he and two other Montreal men boarded a plane for Winnipeg on Aug. 25 carrying bogus credit cards encoded with data stolen from Asia.
Over the course of two days, the men visited six Winnipeg Walmarts, plus stores in Winkler, Portage la Prairie and Selkirk, scooping up $35,000 in electronics, primarily iPads, Edgett said.
The goods were boxed up and shipped by UPS to Montreal, Edgett said. Several boxes were later found at Berthelot’s mother’s home, where he still lives.
On Aug. 26, the men had targeted the Walmart on Empress Street when an employee “twigged these were unusual transactions someone was making” and contacted police, Edgett said. An employee provided a licence plate number to police, who arrested Berthelot and another suspect as they returned their rental vehicle at the airport.
Credit cards are now encoded with chips, but that has not been enough to halt frauds of this kind, Edgett said. “The criminals have gotten around it by using foreign credit card data, encoding it on cards and then turning up and pretending basically that they are foreigners,” he said.
Defence lawyer Giselle Champagne urged Krahn to allow Berthelot to serve a conditional sentence in the community, arguing he was a “pawn” used by more sophisticated criminals.
“He felt pressured to attend to Winnipeg when he was shown credit cards by a co-accused, all with his name on them,” Champagne said. “He panicked.”
Krahn said she had no confidence Berthelot would follow the terms of a conditional sentence.
“These offences undermine the financial system and have a huge impact on the economy,” Krahn said. “Who pays for all these stolen items? I do, the other people in the courtroom who don’t break the law do when we have to pay inflated prices in order to make up for losses from dishonest people.”
Berthelot has already filed a notice of appeal.