A French court sentenced Thierry Tilly, dubbed "The Guru", to eight years in prison Tuesday for cheating an aristocratic family out of their wealth and château, after convincing them their lives were under threat from a secret plot by the Freemasons.
Dubbed “The Guru” by French media, Thierry Tilly was sentenced to eight years in prison on Tuesday for swindling three generations of an aristocratic family out of their fortune and turreted manor, after convincing them they were the targets of a Masonic plot.
Tilly, who was sentenced by a court in the western French city of Bordeaux, became a confidante of the prominent Vedrines family in 2000, in a case that has both riveted and shocked the nation.
Over the nine years he was involved with the Vedrines, Tilly managed to convince the family of 11 – aged from 16 to 89 – that their lives were threatened by a secret plot, according to court testimony.
Terrified, the family locked themselves inside their château for several years. They sold off their possessions – including the family manor – and gave away over 4.5 million euros ($5.7 million) of their wealth.
French media reported that the money was poured into a fake Canadian charity that Tilly claimed was set up to pay the Vedrines’ “protectors.”
The French-born Tilly was convicted of arbitrary detention, using violence against vulnerable people and abusing people weakened by “psychological subjection.”
“Eight years is a small price to pay for what he did to our family and children,” Christine de Vedrines, who first alerted police to Thierry’s actions, told the Sipa news agency on Tuesday. “The trial is behind us and we will do everything to rebuild.”
His accomplice, Jacques Gonzalez, was sentenced to four years in prison.
Despite the conviction, Tilly remained defiant, invoking his right as a British citizen and saying he would take his case to the European Court of Justice, Sipa reported.
Tilly’s lawyer, Alexandre Novion, had argued that the family from the 13th-century village of Monflanquin in southwestern France had acted willingly.
“These 11 family members aren’t ill, have their feet on the ground, a level of self-awareness. Eleven people manipulated by mysterious forces by a single man? The legal basis for the case is weak,” Novion told the Associated Press news agency.
Although Tilly was deemed mentally stable during his trial, French media have reported that he is prone to lies and exaggerations. Tilly claimed before the Bordeaux court that he was a member of the Habsburg dynasty, that he once almost played football for Marseille and that he knew former French President François Mitterrand.
“[The trial] has only just begun,” Tilly declared.
His lawyer, meanwhile, said he was not aware that his client was a British citizen.
The case raised echoes of another controversial trial involving France’s richest woman, 90-year-old L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, who was swindled by a French tax lawyer into handing over a private Seychelles island to him.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2012-11-13