When people think of grand theft, the images conjured are those of vehicles, high-end electronics, fine art and valuable collections. Food is rarely front of mind. Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of dollars are regularly stolen in individual cases of food theft: cheese is far and away the most commonly stolen food, with rare cheese wheels and 18-wheeler cargos alike being targeted. In California, more than ten million dollars in tree nuts were stolen in 2016 alone. In most of these cases, the ultimate disposition of the stolen property is to shady restaurant and deli owners who are quite happy to bypass taxes and market prices for the food they prepare.
Maple syrup is not a common target for food theft, but it was a very Canadian entry to the lore of international criminality. In 2012, a routine inventory check by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers (FPAQ) turned up some barrels missing… more than 9,500 of them, in fact.
Inventory checks were done yearly at that time; after all, nobody expected large-scale theft of syrup, which is fluid, notoriously heavy, and sticky. That said, the FPAQ made a perfect target. They produce the world’s majority of syrup, and since 2002 have maintained a large strategic syrup reserve which has allowed them to regulate prices.
Subsequent investigation led to the seizure of hundreds of barrels of the syrup from a distributor, Etienne St-Pierre, who claimed to have purchased them in good faith. When there proved to be no records of him having bought the syrup from his usual suppliers, pressure was brought to bear, and he cracked.
Unsurprisingly, moving that many barrels of syrup was a multi-person job. In this case, it took seventeen people in on the scheme and others who provided unwitting aid. Initially, the thieves took some barrels from the reserve and carted them away to a prepared location; there they would drain they containers of syrup and replenish them with water. The barrels would then be replaced, and at the next opportunity some more barrels would be taken. This continued for weeks. Eventually the thieves realized that nobody was checking the strategic reserve, so they simply left the barrels empty instead of refilling them with water.
When the time came for the yearly inspection, the water-filled barrels might not have been noticed save for the empty ones stacked alongside them. The total value of the heist was over 18 million dollars, and it might have been higher yet had the thieves not become too lazy to refill their empties.
Not a bad haul for a breakfast topping and pork glaze.
Question of the night: pancakes, waffles or french toast?