Too Big to Steal?

Back in the 1960s, the Reader’s Digest asked the Treasury if the Mint could sell them 200 million new pennies. The Digest wanted to send a subscription mailing to every household in America, each with two shiny pennies taped to the top.

The answer was yes, the San Francisco Mint could make the pennies. Next, promoters at the Digest wondered how to guard a shipment worth $2 million (roughly $12 million in today’s dollars) from San Francisco to New York. Mint officials laughed. “We just ship them on flatbed rail cars,” they said. “How is anybody going to steal a 625-ton load of coins?”

When banks are too big to fail, are they too big to steal? Hardly. Just look at all their sneaky fees. But they’re definitely too big to be stolen, as are other large, valuable things. Pittsburgh used to employ a number of bridge watchers, which was widely regarded as nothing more than political patronage. Still, not a bridge was stolen in 200 years.

Then there’s the Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve in Quebec.

Honestly, there is, and talk about safe and secure — how is anybody going to make off with 52 million pounds of syrup? Nobody has. But they did manage to steal 6 million pounds of it, worth about $18 million.

Not that it was easy. The Strategic Reserve belongs to the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup producers – a trade association, you might say a cartel — through which hundreds of small producers market their product. In years when there’s a bumper crop, the Federation withholds some of it from the market, like OPEC, to prop up the prices. In lean years, they tap the reserves.

When they ran short of warehouse space, the Federation leased part of a second warehouse near Quebec City. The thieves quietly leased an adjacent part of the same complex, so they had legitimate reason to bring in their trucks. When no one was around, they emptied out barrels of syrup, refilling the barrels with water so they wouldn’t have a hollow ring in case of an audit.

Meantime, the robbers had set up a dummy wholesaling company in neighboring New Brunswick, and from there they sold the stolen syrup at full market prices. Some of it is going to be hard to recover.

“Maple syrup doesn’t come with a bar code,” a police official noted. “How do you prove it’s stolen property?”

Three of the thieves have been arrested, and Quebec police are looking for five others. The syrup was insured, but still it’s been a shock.

It’s as if you awakened tomorrow to find that someone had stolen your piano and your tree.

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About Al

Editors of The Horse You Rode In On (listed below) hail from Boston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. All contributions are signed. When guest contributors are included, their comments will be signed in a manner consistent with their needs for discretion, witness protection, or yearning for personal adulation.