© Provided by The GuardianPhotograph: Alamy
Police in Canada believe a sophisticated network of criminals is targeting transport trucks across the country, after seven hot tubs and C$230,000 (US$175,000) worth of beef were stolen in a brazen daylight robbery.
The heist began when a semi-truck arrived at the loading docks of Blue Falls Manufacturing, a hot tubs company in the town of Thorsby, Alberta, on 2 September.
Related: Spirited away: Canadian thieves steal more than $9,000 in iceberg water
The driver presented transport papers and told employees he was with the Quebec-based company Transport Pascal Charland. Seven hot tubs - valued at more than C$150,000 - were loaded into the vehicle.
It was only after he disappeared that employees realized they had just been robbed.
Just a few days earlier, a semi-truck had pulled off a similar trick, picking up hundreds of pounds of beef from a meatpacking plant in the city of Brooks, four and a half hours from Thorsby.
"It's the first time in my 12 years of policing that I've seen this type of thing, certainly this amount of hot tubs or stolen beef," Cpl Rob Gilles of the RCMP's Thorsby detachment told the Guardian.
In both instances, the drivers said they were from the same company and presented forged documents. Police believe the two events are linked, but said the matter was part of an ongoing investigation.
"In our discussion with the RCMP we believe that this was a highly coordinated organized crime syndicate that steals a reputable company's identity, in this case, a trucking company, gains access to secure logistics systems and fraudulently represents themselves to freight brokers who contract them for shipment," the hot tub company wrote on Facebook.
"These people are professional criminals, suspected of many similar incidents that are under investigation by authorities across the country."
While many on social media poked fun at the hot tub theft, the police spokesman said the losses represent a serious a blow to small communities like Thorsby.
"We're a small town of about 1,050 people and [Blue Falls] is kind of the main industry here. There's a lot of people that work hard to produce that stuff," said Gilles. "Seven hot tubs go missing and that's a lot people's hard work down the drain." © Photograph: Alamy'How does someone get rid of seven hot tubs and $250,000 worth of meat?' said an RCMP officer.
Gilles said that investigators suspect the two crimes are linked to a broader trend of thefts that target transport companies.
Earlier this summer, crab meat valued at more than C$1m was stolen in the province of New Brunswick, according to reporting by the Globe and Mail. In the seafood heist, drivers also used forged transport documents.
Gilles said this use of fraudulent paperwork is a key part of the "elaborate scheme" that targets unsuspecting businesses.
This isn't the first time Canadian thieves have targeted unlikely - but valuable - commodities: last year 30,000 litres of iceberg water, valued at more than C$9,000 was stolen in Newfoundland.
"How does someone get rid of seven hot tubs and $250,000 worth of meat?" said Gilles. "I don't quite know and I don't want to speculate, but I imagine a black market might be involved."