Monday, November 07, 2016

Alleged ringleader in $18.7m maple syrup theft says that he acted out of fear

Ten days into the trial of several men accused in connection with a multi-million dollar maple syrup heist in Canada, one of the accused dropped a bombshell. In his testimony on Wednesday, Richard Vallières, 38, admitted to having trafficked stolen syrup but said he did it because he and his family's lives were threatened. In August 2012, officials discovered $18.7 million worth of maple syrup warehoused in St-Louis-de-Blandford, Que., had disappeared - replaced mostly by water. The syrup belonged to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, the regulatory body that controls and manages the syrup trade in the province.

Vallières was among 26 people arrested in connection to the heist. Some pleaded guilty, charges were dropped against others, and more trials are coming. Vallières is on trial for fraud, theft and trafficking linked to the marketing, transportation and resale of the stolen syrup. He testified he is what is known as a "barrel roller" in the maple industry - buying and selling syrup directly from producers in Quebec, bypassing the federation. Witnesses called by the Crown have painted him as one of the ringleaders of the heist. But Vallières told the jury he acted out of fear. Vallières testified he realised he was buying stolen syrup when a shipment arrived in special federation barrels that are an unmistakable whitish-blue colour.

He broke down in tears, explaining that he tried to refuse the shipment, but the man who sold it to him threatened to kill him, his girlfriend and young daughter, telling him, "I know where you live." Vallières said the man pulled a handgun from his coat. The alleged seller cannot be identified until his jury trial begins next January. Vallières said the man also threatened him when he tried to refuse to fill the federation barrels with water. He said he continued to buy syrup from the man for months, not talking about the death threats to anyone other than his father. He began taking sleeping pills and drinking heavily, he said, because he was so scared. After their arrests, Vallières said the alleged seller muttered, "If anyone speaks, they'll get a bullet to the head."

The Crown attempted to poke holes in Vallières's defence, asking why he wrote text messages to the alleged seller, saying, "Come see me, my love, I miss you," congratulating him on the birth of a child and inviting him over to celebrate on his birthday. Vallières admitted to never having paid personal income tax nor tax for his three companies. He said he paid cash or wrote cheques for about 100 shipments of maple syrup, each weighing in at nearly 20 tonnes, including one single payment of $200,000, in cash. The other two men on trial, Richard Vallières's father, Raymond Vallières, and an employee, Jean Lord, are charged with either storing or transporting stolen syrup. The trial continues in Trois-Rivières next week.

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