Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist
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The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist (French: vol de sirop d'érable du siècle, lit. 'maple syrup heist of the century') is the informal name for a months-long theft between 2011 and 2012 of nearly 3,000 tons of maple syrup, valued at C$18.7 million from a storage facility in Quebec. The facility was operated by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (French: Fédération des producteurs acéricoles du Québec, FPAQ) who represent 77% of the global maple syrup supply, and have been compared to a cartel. Adjusted for inflation (2018), this heist is considered the most valuable in Canadian history.
In 1966, a group of maple syrup producers in Quebec participated in a joint plan to collectively market maple syrup. This effort inspired the formation of a larger agreement all across Quebec which became known as the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.
The FPAQ maintains a strategic reserve of maple syrup, officially known as the International Strategic Reserve (ISR) across multiple warehouses in rural Quebec towns.
Over the course of several months between 2011 and 2012, the contents of 9,571 barrels, valued at C$18.7M, was stolen in a suspected insider job from a FPAQ facility in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec. The syrup was stored in unmarked white metal barrels inspected only once a year. Thieves used trucks to transport barrels to a remote sugar shack, where they siphoned off the maple syrup, refilled the barrels with water, then returned them to the facility. As the operation progressed, the thieves started siphoning syrup directly off barrels in the reserve without refilling them. The stolen syrup was trucked to the south (Vermont) and east (New Brunswick), where it was trafficked in many small batches to reduce suspicion. It was typically sold to legitimate syrup distributors who were unaware of its origin.
Discovery and investigation
In fall 2012, the FPAQ took their annual inventory of syrup barrels. Inspector Michel Gauvreau started climbing up the barrels and nearly fell, expecting 600-pound barrels but finding them to be empty. Police later recovered hundreds of barrels of the syrup from an exporter based in Kedgwick, New Brunswick.
Between 18 and 20 December 2012, police arrested seventeen men related to the theft.
- Richard Vallières (b. 1978), accused ringleader, sentenced in April 2017 to eight years in prison plus C$9.4 million fine, with an extension to fourteen years if fine is not paid.
- Raymond Vallières (b. 1954), father of Richard, convicted of possession.
- Étienne St-Pierre (b. 1943), a New Brunswick based syrup reseller.
- Avik Caron (b. 1974), the insider whose spouse owned the FPAQ warehouse, sentenced to five years in prison plus a C$1.2 million fine.
- Sébastien Jutras, a trucker involved in the transport of stolen syrup, served eight months in prison.
In popular culture
Canadian folk band Trent Severn wrote a song, "Stealin' Syrup", based on the heist for their 2016 album release, Trillium.
The theft is also alluded to in the television show Elementary, season 5, episode 13: "Over a Barrel". In the episode, the barrels are shown being brought by barge to a warehouse in New York, causing the disappearance of a particular gang; however, the gang is merely hiding in plain sight, selling smuggled maple syrup rather than smuggled cocaine.
The event is the subject of episode 14 of the Things I Learned Last Night podcast. Jaron Myers and Tim Stone overview the event and discuss the FPAQ reserves.
The event is the subject of episode 96 of the Do Go On podcast. Comedians Jess Perkins, Matt Stewart and Dave Warneke discuss the event.
The event is also mentioned in the show White Collar, Season 5, Episode 8: "Digging Deeper". Neal mentions it to Peter Burke as they are investigating a stolen Dinosaur fossil. Neal even uses the correct value of the syrup stolen.
- Rita Trichur (5 April 2011). "Quebec: Maple syrup's strategic reserve". The Globe and Mail.
- Rich Cohen (December 2016). "Inside Quebec's Great, Multi-Million Dollar Maple Syrup Heist". Vanity Fair.
- "Police seize hundreds of barrels of syrup possibly linked to Quebec maple heist". CBC. 3 October 2012.
- "Ringleader in maple syrup heist gets 8 years in prison, $9.4M fine". CBC. 28 April 2017.
- "Sweet revenge for Quebec maple syrup producers: Thief gets five years for role in $18.7 million heist". CBC. 24 April 2017.
- Graeme Hamilton (25 October 2016). "With burner phones and $200K in hidden cash, plot to steal maple syrup had look of a major drug deal". National Post.
- "Things I Learned Last Night". Things I Learned Last Night Podcast. Retrieved October 9, 2018.