• Vt. company in sticky situation?
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     | February 09,2013
     

    ST. JOHNSBURY — Canadian officials have linked Maple Grove Farms of Vermont to a case in which $20 million of maple syrup was stolen in Quebec.

    The company denies any wrongdoing.

    Mark Bigelow, a Maple Grove manager in St. Johnsbury, declined to comment Thursday afternoon. A statement released later by the company notes, “Maple Grove Farms purchased the maple syrup in good faith with no reason to believe that it was coming from Quebec or that it may have been stolen.”

    The case now implicating Maple Grove, a major regional company, which bills itself as the largest distributor of maple syrup in the United States and the world’s leading maple-candy producer, involves siphoning the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of syrup from a warehouse controlled by the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers in Quebec. The value of the stolen syrup has been set at $20 million.

    The federation has been compared to an OPEC-like cartel that distributes up to 78 percent of the world’s syrup, influences market prices by withholding supply, and maintains a strategic syrup reserve likened to the United States’ strategic-oil reserve.

    The Gazette in Montreal reported that Maple Grove was caught with 12 tanker truck loads of maple syrup that came from the syrup stolen from the warehouse in Saint-Louis-de-Blandford, Quebec.

    The newspaper report stated that Maple Grove was visited in October by Vermont and Canadian police in the investigation connecting the company to the stolen syrup. The significance of the heist has given birth to the moniker “The Great Maple Syrup Theft Caper.”

    The French newspaper Le Soleil reported Wednesday that the amount of syrup that could be transported in 12 tractor-trailer loads would be about 700,000 pounds. If Maple Grove purchased that amount it would equal about 15 percent of the total amount of stolen syrup.

    Chief Clem Houde of the St. Johnsbury Police Department, which covers the area in the village where Maple Grove is located, said his officers were not involved in the investigation. Lt. Michael Henry of the Vermont State Police also said his troopers were not involved.

    According to a petition filed before the Board of Agriculture and Food Marketing of Quebec, a Maple Grove representative confirmed the company purchased syrup from heist kingpin Richard Vallieres last summer at a cost “substantially below normal rates” set by the syrup federation. Media reports say Vallieres is a well-known buyer of illegal maple syrup.

    Maple Grove denies the purchase was at a greatly reduced cost. “Press reports that the prices paid for the maple syrup were ‘substantially below normal rates’ are inaccurate. The prices paid were consistent with normal commercial prices for maple syrup purchased from sources outside of Quebec.”

    Canadian authorities have made more than 18 arrests in the case, including Vallieres. Maple Grove for its alleged part could face fines and trade sanctions.

    The Agriculture and Food Marketing Board of Quebec frowns on the purchase of syrup from unauthorized dealers, and was scheduled to rule on Maple Grove’s breach of procedure this week. However, the matter was postponed “to allow criminal charges to be laid in the matter,” according to Canadian media reports.

    The maple syrup theft was discovered in July 2012 by an accountant sent to assess inventory at the Saint-Louis-de-Blandford warehouse. The warehouse is located about 100 miles northeast of Montreal.

    Maple Grove Farms was founded in 1915. It is headquartered on Portland Street in St. Johnsbury, but also maintains a branch in Saint-Evariste-de-Forsyth, Quebec.

    The company concluded its statement by noting, “Maple Grove Farms is committed to providing quality products and observing high ethical standards in the conduct of our business. Maple Grove Farms is fully cooperating with the investigation being conducted by the authorities, including the Quebec Police.”

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