Talk about a sticky mess.
The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers believe several million cans of stolen maple syrup may be sitting on U.S. grocery shelves.
Quebec police arrested four men in connection with the robbery of 6 million pounds of maple syrup stolen from a Canadian warehouse in a heist spanning just under a year.
The thieves managed to steal the sticky substance from a warehouse in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford between August 2011 and July of this year. The stolen syrup tops out at $18 million in total market value.
"It's one of the most important robberies in Quebec because of the quantity stolen and the value of the syrup," said Sgt. Gregory Gomez Del Prado of Quebec police.
Quebec police arrested Stephan Darveau on Wednesday, after arresting three others on Tuesday, linking all four to an ongoing investigation.
Richard Vallières, 34, Avik Caron, 39, and another unnamed suspect met in court on Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to commit theft, possession of property obtained by crime and fraud.
Quebec police have arrest warrants for four other suspects: Sébastien Jutras, Gaétan Jutras, Line Pépin and Robert McClean.
"We know there are probably more people involved. It's a complex case," said Simon Trépanier, director of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers. "At the beginning we knew it had been done by a very organized group because it's impossible to steal that amount of maple syrup without being organized."
Trépanier said his organization stored the overproduction supply of their 2011 harvest in roughly 10 million barrels located within a rented facility. The organization did not know of the heist until the warehouse workers called to report empty syrup barrels.
"At first people were laughing saying, 'Oh, this is just food; it's not like stealing cars or jewelry,'" said Trépanier. "You realize now, one barrel holds 45 gallons of maple syrup with a worth of $1,800. It's more difficult to put in your bag than jewelry. It's still a high value item."
During the police investigation, officers met with 300 workers related to the production, sale and transportation of maple syrup. Police were able to recover two elevator carts, four kettles of syrup, forklifts and six electronic scales - all items used during the theft.
Nearly two thirds of the stolen liquid has been located in New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario. That syrup is currently stored in a warehouse in Laurierville, Quebec. Quebec police are working closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Border Services Agency of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Sargeant Gomez believes other arrests will be made but could not comment on just how many individuals were involved in the elaborate heist or exactly what the penalty will be.
"It could be more than $5,000 or several years of jail time," he said.
But that's not what concerns Trépanier. He believes the stolen syrup is now being sold in U.S. stores, specifically in New England.
"Are consumers in the states aware that maybe they're buying something that has been stolen?" said Trépanier. "Are the people who are selling that maple syrup aware they're selling something stolen? Nobody wants to be involved in the selling of something that has been stolen."
Matt Gordon, executive director of Vermont Maple Sugar Makers, works to market and educate retailers on new production techniques. He says he had not heard about the case in Quebec, nor has he heard of "anything on this magnitude in the past."
Even if the stolen maple syrup is found in the states, Gordon doesn't see an issue with producers.
"My instinct is to say it wouldn't impact maple syrup producers [in the U.S.] because syrup would have had to have been bought through regular channels," said Gordon.