This is not your usual corporate embezzlement scheme: A man in Spain has been jailed for selling nearly $500,000 worth of ham—7,000 of them—that he stole from his workplace over a period of almost seven years. And it’s not the Oscar Mayer warehouse—some of the purloined pork ranks among the most exclusive and expensive in the world. Read on to find out how he managed it, why his sentence was reduced on a technicality, and why ham of wildly varying levels of quality has become the target of thieves worldwide.
The as-yet-unnamed man stole the hams from a curing warehouse in Huelva, Spain, where he worked from 2007 to 2013. Tasked with receiving the hams at delivery from suppliers, authorities said he intercepted thousands of them to sell himself, even using a messenger service to deliver them to customers.
The man was convicted of the theft, along with his wife, who was judged to be his accomplice. The pair have been ordered to repay more than $520,000 to the affected business. Although the man was eligible to serve six years in prison, his sentence was reduced to 11 months and 29 days because the case took so long to come to trial.
Huelva is renowned worldwide for its production of jamón de jabugo, a highly exclusive type of ham granted rare culinary status. They’re made from blackfoot pigs, which during the last three months of their lives are fed exclusively with acorns and natural pastures in the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche park, environments that create “unique microclimatic conditions.” Each ham can sell for more than $500. The convicted ham thief made off with more than 100 of these super-premium pieces of pork.
Expensive ham is a more frequent target for theft than most may have thought. In 2016, a man was arrested for stealing seven legs of Iberico ham that were hanging over a bar (valued at $130 each). He was caught because a trail of pork fat led authorities from the site of the theft directly to his house. And in November 2020, video footage from a Madrid supermarket went viral after a husband and wife attempted to steal two legs of Serrano ham by hoisting them off the sales floor with a rope. The black market of stolen hams is reportedly worth millions of dollars.