Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Woman in massive MPI fraud case waffles on guilty plea

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A Queen’s Bench judge told a young woman caught up in a massive vehicle insurance fraud scheme to stop listening to family and friends and take the advice of her lawyer.

Kaela Leigh Perry had just entered guilty pleas to six counts of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud this morning when she told Justice Chris Martin that she felt "pressured" to admit her guilt and she’d be more comfortable going to trial.

Crown and defence counsel told Martin that Perry, 26 had been talking to the mother of her former boyfriend -- who had already pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme -- and she was wavering on how to proceed.

Martin said Perry should refrain from listening to friends and family, who he called "armchair quarterbacks," who do not grasp the intricacies of the law and her situation.

"If you trust your lawyer, you should take her advice," Martin said, adding he didn’t want Perry to enter guilty pleas if that’s not what she wants to do.

However, Martin said Perry cannot avoid her fate and must deal with the charges.

"No one wants you to plead guilty," Martin said. "If you want a trial, we’ll give you a trial."

Perry was one of dozens of people arrested in a massive investigation into what was described as the largest vehicle-insurance fraud scheme in the province’s history.

Between 2005 and 2009, high-end luxury cars were brought in from Ontario, where their odometers would be rolled back and then sales arranged to individuals who participated in staging phony accidents and thefts -- all in a bid to secure insurance claims.

Manitoba Public Insurance claimed to have lost more than $800,000 to the scheme.

Martin adjourned the proceedings to next week, advising Perry to review her situation with defence counsel Stacey Soldier.

"I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes," Martin told Perry. "I don’t know what you mean by ‘being more comfortable going to trial’... I can assure you that a trial will be an uncomfortable time."

Crown prosecutor Sheila Leinburd said she had negotiated a plea deal with Perry’s defence counsel, Stacey Soldier, for the seven guilty pleas in exchange to dropping five other fraud charges and two charges of being involved in a criminal organization. There was also an agreement for a restitution order of more than $92,000. Sentencing would have taken place at a later date.

Leinburd said the case had been dragging on for several years and a trial date was set for September, adding that a previous judge on the case had ordered the trial to take place even if Perry did not have counsel to represent her.

Soldier said if Perry withdraws her guilty pleas, she would have to withdraw as counsel as she could not represent her.

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