Reputed ringleader in $18.7M maple syrup heist found guilty

A jury in Trois-Rivières has handed down a series of guilty verdicts in the 2012 theft of $18.7-million worth of maple syrup.

Richard Vallières and two others found guilty in connection with Quebec's Great Maple Syrup Robbery

The theft of 3,000 tonnes of Quebec syrup in 2012 made headlines around the world. (Jim Cole/The Associated Press)

A man described as one of the ringleaders in the 2012 theft of $18.7-million worth of maple syrup has been found guilty by a jury in Trois-Rivières, Que. 

The Great Maple Syrup Robbery made headlines around the world four years ago. The elaborate caper saw 3,000 tonnes of syrup go missing from a warehouse belonging to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers — the regulatory body that controls and manages the syrup trade.

The heist was only discovered when a routine inventory check in July 2012 turned up an empty barrel that was supposed to be full of syrup. Officials with the federation quickly realized that dozens of its barrels contained not the sweet stuff, but water. 

The resulting investigation by Quebec provincial police led to the arrests of 26 people. 

On Saturday, Richard Vallières was found guilty of theft, fraud and trafficking stolen goods. During his trial in Quebec Superior Court, he said that he had filled the barrels with water.

But he also insisted that he hadn't wanted to. He testified that he was forced to buy syrup stolen from the federation, and replace it with water, by a man who carried a gun. 

Vallières said the man told him, "I know where you live." Vallières also said the man led him to believe he had links to the Mafia.

But witnesses called by the Crown painted him as one of the ringleaders of the heist.

During the trial, Richard Vallières told the court he faced death threats to buy maple syrup. (Marika Wheeler/CBC)

The New Brunswick Connection

Vallières was standing trial along with father, Raymond Vallières, and Étienne St-Pierre, a maple syrup buyer from Kedgwick, N.B.

According to evidence presented by the Crown, Vallières sold the stolen syrup to St-Pierre. The syrup was then re-branded and made to appear as if it was from New Brunswick, not Quebec. 

"You can't prove what tree the syrup came from," St-Pierre told the jury.

St-Pierre also admitted he had long been an opponent of the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, and resented their control of the market.

The Crown produced evidence suggesting St-Pierre considered the federation to be akin to the Mafia. 

Dealing with Vallières allowed him to get his hands on syrup, without having to go through the federation. 

Vallières told the court that, in the industry, he's known as a "barrel roller," someone who buys and sells syrup directly from producers in Quebec, bypassing the federation.

St-Pierre was found guilty Saturday of fraud and trafficking stolen goods. Raymond Vallières was found guilty of possession of stolen goods and of fraud with the intention to traffic. 

A fourth man, Jean Lord, was acquitted on charges of possession of stolen goods and fraud with intention to traffic. 

"The Crown is very satisfied with the verdicts, given the amount and force of the evidence against the accused," Julien Beauchamp-Laliberté, the lead Crown prosecutor for the case, told CBC News. 

When police raided Étienne St-Pierre's warehouse in Sept. 2012, they found 62 per cent of his inventory was purchased from Richard Vallières. (Sûreté du Québec)

Sentencing arguments are scheduled for Jan. 27. 

Of the 26 people arrested in connection to the heist, some pleaded guilty, charges were dropped against others, and more trials are coming.

Another five accused will stand trial in January.

with files from Marika Wheeler