Crown seeks sentence of up to 18 years for ringleader in 2012 maple syrup heist

The Crown wants maple syrup thief Richard Vallières to receive a stiff, eight-year sentence for stealing and reselling maple syrup in 2012 — and 10 more years if he can't pay back what he pocketed.

More than 16,000 barrels stolen from warehouse in what became known as Great Maple Syrup Robbery

Richard Vallières, right, along with his father Raymond and Étienne St-Pierre, a New Brunswick maple syrup distributor, were all found guilty in November 2016. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

The Crown wants maple syrup thief Richard Vallières to receive a stiff eight-year prison sentence for stealing maple syrup and reselling it on the black market in 2012.

In addition, if Vallières can't pay back the money he pocketed in the heist, the prosecutor wants 10 years tacked on to his sentence.

It's a demand that Superior Court Justice Raymond Pronovost qualified as downright unreasonable on the first day of Vallières's sentencing hearing in Trois-Rivières on Friday.

Vallières' lawyer plans to seek a sentence of three to five years when the hearing resumes on Feb. 13.

A jury found Vallières guilty last November of theft, fraud and trafficking stolen goods.

He was one of the ringleaders in a major operation that swindled 3,000 tonnes of maple syrup from the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers.

The brazen heist of $18-million in syrup from a warehouse made headlines around the world in 2012, becoming known as the Great Maple Syrup Robbery. (Stu Mills/CBC)

More than 16,000 barrels of syrup were stolen from a warehouse and the syrup sold to distributors. The barrels, filled with water, were returned to the warehouse.

Crown prosecutor Julien Beauchamp-Laliberté said Vallières made $9.4 million dollars in the operation — money Beauchamp-Laliberté wants to see reimbursed.

''We don't want criminals to spend all the money they make with their criminal activities," Beauchamp-Laliberté told CBC News outside the courtroom.

He said it's not an issue of whether those involved in the heist still have the money.

"The fact is they have to pay their dues to society.'' 

Pronovost expressed his disbelief over the Crown's demands at the start of Friday's hearing.

"These people were working on the black market and saw a window of opportunity," said Pronovost. "You can't convince me they should be tried as drug dealers".

"The law is the law," responded Beauchamp-Laliberté.

Pronovost drew a comparison to the former Norbourg CEO case of Vincent Lacroix, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2009 for defrauding thousands of small-time investors of an estimated $115 million.

"Rehabilitation also has to be considered in our society," warned Pronovost.

The Crown is seeking a four-year sentence for Étienne St-Pierre for having bought the stolen maple syrup and wants St-Pierre to pay back $1.03 million. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

As for the other defendants, the Crown is seeking a three-year sentence for Richard Vallières' father, Raymond Vallières, in addition to a fine of $200,000.

He's arguing that Étienne St-Pierre, the New Brunswick distributor who bought the stolen syrup, should be sentenced to four years in prison and should be compelled to pay back $1.03 million.

The lawyer for Raymond Vallières is seeking a 90-day sentence with three years probation, while St-Pierre's lawyer will ask that his client serve his sentence in the community.

The other ringleader in the heist, Avik Caron, pleaded guilty to his charges and is due back in court in the coming weeks.

Money stuck south of border

In a separate court case, the Crown is trying to seize $600,000 U.S. it wants returned to the Federation of Maple Syrup Producers.

Fifty thousand US dollars is in a bank account Richard Vallières opened in Vermont.

The other $550,000 US is what's still owed to Vallières by a maple syrup distributor.

A third party is claiming that money should go to pay off a debt Vallières contracted during the operation.