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Arrests made in Quebec maple syrup heist

Updated, Dec. 18 — This summer’s disappearance of six million pounds of Quebec maple syrup from the province’s “strategic reserve” has led to charges against three people, with more arrests pending.

Quebec’s provincial police, la Surete du Quebec, said Richard Vallieres of Loretteville, Avik Caron of St. Wenceslas and an unnamed third person arrested will appear in court in Trois-Rivieres after their arrest Tuesday morning to answer to charges of theft, conspiracy to commit theft, handling stolen goods, and fraud.

Officers also seized two forklifts, two platform lifts, four syrup cauldrons and six electronic scales, plus vehicles used to transport syrup, la Surete said in Tuesday’s release.

Furthermore, two-thirds of the syrup alleged to have been stolen have now been recovered, la Surete added.

It was reported in August that up to 10 million pounds, worth $30 million, may have disappeared, but the Federation des producteurs acericoles du Quebec, the province’s producer group and syrup marketing agency, on Tuesday put the final figure at about six million pounds after having run a “more thorough inventory.”

The FPAQ reported Tuesday that la Surete had seized some of the missing syrup in “various Canadian provinces, while it seems another part was located in the United States.”

Arrest warrants have also been issued for five other people from Becancour, Sherbrooke and Granby, la Surete said. Allegations against the eight people have not yet been proven in court.

The syrup was reported missing in August from a warehouse operated by the FPAQ about 70 km east of Trois-Rivieres at St-Louis-de-Blandford — one of three sites where the province’s syrup is temporarily stored ahead of sale and distribution.

Quebec produces about 75 per cent of the global supply of maple syrup; about two-thirds of Canada’s total production is exported to the U.S. The Quebec federation has said several states’ producers have seen a “very low, indeed catastrophic” harvest during the 2012 season, while Quebec’s harvest “remained normal.”

The federation has said its syrup inventories supply markets during periods of weaker harvests and can thus be considered a “global strategic reserve.” In all, the FPAQ said Tuesday, the reserve holds about 46 million pounds of syrup, or half the harvest from a “normal” season in Quebec.

The disappearance, when reported in August, was believed to have taken place sometime over a few days, but la Surete said Tuesday’s arrests relate to alleged thefts between Aug. 1 last year and July 30 this year.

The FPAQ said it has “initiated several procedures” to recover the syrup and the proceeds from its sale. Furthermore, the federation said, la Surete’s investigation turned up “a few cases where maple syrup might have been illegally sold by producers to buyers outside the collective marketing system in place, in Quebec.”

Producers and buyers involved in any such sales “may have to answer for their actions” before the province’s Regie des marches agricoles et alimentaires, the administrative tribunal that regulates marketing of farm produce, the FPAQ said Tuesday.

La Surete said Tuesday its investigation included interviews with almost 300 people involved in maple syrup production, marketing and transport and involved obtaining warrants in New Brunswick, Ontario and the northern U.S.

Agencies taking part in the investigation included local police from Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivieres and Drummondville, the Canada Border Services Agency, RCMP and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), la Surete added.

The federation, which represents the province’s 7,400-odd producers, said it bought a facility last March at Laurierville, about 40 km east of the St-Louis warehouse, and had been retrofitting that site “to fulfill its additional space requirements to store the agency’s maple syrup inventory.”

Syrup that was soon to be moved to Laurierville was being temporarily stored at St-Louis around the time the disappearance was reported.

Related stories:
Maple syrup heist baffles Quebec, Aug. 31, 2012
Quebec ag marketing board to get power to penalize, June 3, 2011
Que. maple syrup producers to study RFID tracking, Feb. 16, 2011

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