ELIZABETH, N.J. — Up to 10,000 girls forced to work in a New Jersey baked-goods factory were freed Tuesday, nearly a year after an investigation was launched into the origins of Girl Scout cookies. Suspicions were raised last December after scraps of paper with pleas for help were found tucked into dozens of boxes of Thin Mints, the organization’s top-selling item from its annual fundraising drive.
Parents from around the country flocked to the site in the outskirts of Newark to jubilantly reunite with their daughters, many of whom had been led to believe they were going to Guatemala to build houses for poor families.
“They told Angie that she would earn a hundred merit badges, and that she’d become a Phoenix Scout,” said one weeping mother who had not seen her daughter since July. “There’s no such thing as Phoenix Scout.”
Justice Department spokesperson Kay Andrews said that the FBI carried out a sting operation during this year’s cookie season, having agents pose as crooked troop leaders trying to obtain bulk quantities of coconut-sprinkled Samoas and delicious Do-si-dos for lucrative black-market sales. Once connected with a supplier, the agents traced the cookies’ provenance to a former bread factory that, according to prosecutors, has been in operation since at least 2003, when the Girl Scouts membership numbers peaked and demand for the cookies rose to an all-time high.
Girl Scouts of America president Barbara Maloney said that she had no idea the cookies were actually baked by scouts, but that in any case, this year’s price for one box would double to 10 dollars to account for the skyrocketing costs of chocolate and other ingredients.