February 8, 2013 10:11 am

Vermont company implicated in $20-million Quebec maple syrup heist


MONTREAL – It’s another chapter in the great Maple Syrup Theft Caper, one that now transcends international borders.

A Vermont maple sugar candy producer is alleged to have been caught with 12 tanker trucks worth of stolen syrup, traced back to the $20-million theft of the golden elixir from a central warehouse in a small Quebec town about 160 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

Maple Grove Farms of St. Johnsbury, Vt., is alleged to have purchased “hot” syrup from one of the kingpins in the $20-million theft from a facility in St-Louis-de Blandford sometime between Aug. 1, 2011, and July 30, 2012.

Le Soleil in Quebec City reports that the Agriculture and Food Marketing Board of Quebec was asked to rule this week on the breach of procedures of the collective marketing system as set out by the provincial association of maple syrup producers.

Buying from other than an authorized source is a no-no where Quebec syrup is concerned and there could be trade sanctions against the purchaser; however, the issue was delayed to allow criminal charges to be laid in the matter.

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The Sûreté du Québec and police in Vermont, armed with a search warrant, visited the St. Johnsbury factory on Oct. 19, 2012. According to the report, the company representative confirmed that the firm had bought syrup from Richard Vallières in the summer of 2012, at a price “substantially below normal rates” as set out by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.

What, if any, fines Maple Grove should incur is not known at this point. The SQ have steadfastly refused to comment on any aspects of this case while the investigation is ongoing.

Maple Grove Farms finally commented on the matter, after initially ignoring messages sent by phone and email.

“Maple Grove Farms purchased the maple syrup in good faith with no reason to believe that it was coming from Quebec or that it may have been stolen. The prices paid were consistent with normal commercial prices for maple syrup purchased from sources outside of Quebec. Maple Grove Farms is fully cooperating with the investigation being conducted by the authorities, including the Quebec Police.”

Vallières was one of a passel of people arrested and released by the SQ in December 2012, charged with conspiracy and theft.

These arrests followed an extensive investigation that included 300 interviews and trips to New Brunswick, Vermont, Ontario and many maple syrup production facilities in this province.

There were 18 arrests over three days in December and the seizure of forklifts, four kettles used to boil syrup, scales and other maple syrup processing equipment. Some of the accused will face a judge at the end of this month.

In a story of fantastic proportions, the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of syrup was systematically siphoned off from a warehouse rented by the Federation over the course of a year.

The organization tightly controls production and, more importantly, the price point for maple syrup in an industry estimated to pull in $270 million annually.

In years where production is above normal – for instance, good years like 2011 – excess product is warehoused to avoid diluting the price, both for bulk sales and normal retail.

The theft was only discovered when an accountant sent to assess inventory at the St-Louis-de Blandford site in July 2012 realized that some of the storage barrels were empty or filled with water instead of syrup.

Maple syrup, corn, what other surprising heists have there been in Canada? Click here to find out.

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