The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist
On the morning of July 30, 2012, an accountant named Michel Gauvreau arrived at the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve, housed in a huge red brick warehouse on the side of the Trans-Canadian Highway in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, about two hours northeast of Montreal. Inside, baby-blue barrels of maple syrup were stacked six high in rows hundreds deep. Full, each barrel weighs about 620 pounds. With grade A syrup trading at about $32 per gallon, that adds up to $1,800 a barrel, approximately 13 times the price of crude oil.
The fiscal year was coming to a close, and the Federation of Québec Maple Syrup Producers had hired Gauvreau’s company, Veragrimar, to audit its inventory. Québec dominates the maple syrup market, and since 2002 the Federation has operated as a legal cartel, setting production quotas and prices, authorizing buyers, and stockpiling syrup. There were around 16,000 barrels here, about one-tenth of Québec’s annual production. The gap between the rows was barely wide enough to walk through, and the rubber soles of Gauvreau’s steel-tip boots stuck to the sugar-coated concrete floor.
He scaled a row of barrels and was nearing the top of the stack when one of them rocked with his weight. He nearly fell. Regaining his balance, he rattled the barrel: It was light because it was empty. He soon found others that were empty. After notifying the Federation’s leaders and returning with them to examine the stockpile, they unscrewed the cap on a full barrel. The liquid inside was not goopy, brown, or redolent with the wintry scent of vanilla, caramel, and childhood; it was thin, clear, and odorless. It was water.