Alleged maple syrup swindlers snatched
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MONTREAL - There has been a break in the case of a massive maple syrup heist, with police announcing that a months-long multi-jurisdictional search has yielded three arrests and the seizure of millions' worth of stolen sticky stuff.
Three people were nabbed Tuesday in connection with the theft of a large quantity of the national condiment from a warehouse in Quebec.
About 2.7 million kilos of maple syrup, worth up to $18 million, was reported missing after a routine inventory check last summer.
Or, if your preferred unit of measurement is pancakes, the stolen amount would have been enough to dump a one-tablespoon topping on a whopping 183 million flapjacks.
Police say they have now recovered most of the missing syrup. They have also seized vehicles suspected of being used in the trafficking operation and equipment like scales and electronic lifts.
Those arrested were expected to face charges in a Trois-Rivieres courtroom of theft, conspiracy, fraud and trafficking in stolen goods Tuesday.
There are arrest warrants out for five other people.
"This investigation is not over," Claude Denis of the Quebec provincial police said.
"It's ongoing, and other arrests could follow."
Officers from the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement assisted the Quebec provincial police in the investigation — which featured interviews with 300 people in the maple syrup industry in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and the northern U.S.
The alleged crime occurred at one of the several warehouses containing Quebec's maple syrup stockpile, which is generally about 20 million kilos worth roughly $120 million.
The theft was discovered during a routine inventory check at the warehouse belonging to the Quebec Federation of Maple Syrup Producers in St-Louis-de-Blandford, Que.
Most of the breakfast-table bootie has been found.
"Two-thirds of the stolen syrup was recovered," Denis said.
Quebec claims to produce four-fifths of the world's maple syrup. Despite this, the missing barrels did not actually impact the global supply, according to one industry insider.
The missing amount was barely one-10th of the province's strategic reserve.
"In terms of volume it's very big but in relation to the entire inventory, it's small," said Simon Trepanier, acting director-general of the Quebec Federation of Maple Syrup Producers.
"In terms of supply of the market ... it didn't really have an impact."
Trepanier said he didn't know for sure whether any stolen syrup had made it to market.
He said he did, however, hear reports of a minor price dip in some areas. He said some accredited buyers reported a small drop caused, perhaps, by a proliferation of stolen goods — in other words, by a flood of hot syrup.
So why does Quebec have a strategic maple syrup reserve, anyway?
Trepanier said it's basic economics.
He said the surplus stock helps protect the industry against unforeseen shocks, and helps keep suppliers satisfied in lean times.
"What you have to understand is that Mother Nature is not generous every year," he said. "So we have years when production is so low that it isn't sufficient to supply the markets that we have developed...
"We have to keep an inventory of previous years to supply the market when we have a small harvest."
Police said they had arrested Richard Vallieres, 34, of Loretteville, Que., Avik Caron, 39, of St-Wenceslas, Que., and a third suspect whom they did not name in a news release Tuesday.