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Swindlers of French aristocratic family get prison terms

Scales of justice.


A French court has ordered prison sentences for two men who were accused of having manipulated 11 members of an aristocratic family into giving away nearly $6-million they thought was going to a Quebec charity.

The Monflanquin affair had made national headlines in France because the defendants were alleged to have held a guru-like control over their victims, stoking their paranoia and convincing them to hide for seven years like hermits in their ancestral manor.

On Tuesday morning, a tribunal in Bordeaux sentenced 48-year-old Thierry Tilly to eight years in detention and Jacques Gonzales, 64, to a four-year sentence, defence lawyer Frédérique Dantin said in a telephone interview.

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The defendants have 10 days to decide whether to appeal, she said.

Mr. Gonzales registered a foundation in Quebec which the victims believed to be a charity for which they were working and donating.

A 133-page court indictment portrayed Mr. Tilly and Mr. Gonzales as men who hoodwinked a well-educated family whose members included an oil executive and a gynecologist.

The indictment says Mr. Tilly convinced the clan they were a "chosen" family that had to be protected from threats by alleged Free-Masons, Jews and Rosicrucians.

The family lived in terror, believing that their phones were under wiretap and they ostracized spouses and friends who were skeptical of Mr. Tilly, the indictment said.

The Védrines forwarded to Mr. Tilly the content of their bank accounts, then gave him the proceeds of the sale of their family jewels and ancestral mansion, the court document says.

The indictment alleges that Mr. Tilly reported to Mr. Gonzales, the president of the Blue Light Foundation, an inactive corporation that Mr. Gonzales set up in 1999 in Quebec.

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It was also in 1999 that Mr. Tilly first met the family, when he befriended Ghislaine de Védrines, then 53, who was one of the three grown children of the family matriarch, the 86-year-old widow Guillemette.

Ghislaine de Védrines ran a secretarial school in Paris and Mr. Tilly was contracted to provide cleaning and janitorial services.

The indictment says he made himself indispensable at the secretarial school, even offering legal advice.

He was introduced to the rest of the family and, according to the indictment, played them off each others, feeding their insecurities, jealousies and resentment over inheritance feuds.

The indictment says he eventually convinced three generations of Védrines, including the matriarch, her three grown children, some of their spouses, and teenaged grandchildren, to lead a reclusive life in their ancestral Château de Martel, near the old town of Monflanquin.

The group eventually moved to Oxford, England, where they did odd jobs and handed their wages to Mr. Tilly, the court document says.

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Gradually some in the group broke away, the indictment says, especially after Mr. Tilly singled out one member by depriving her of sleep for several days, forcing to sit on a stool facing a wall and forbidding her from going to the bathroom.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More


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