Nine people were indicted in Franklin County today for stealing more than $100,000 worth of bourbon from the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries. The press conference announcing the indictment felt like a scene straight out of “Justified.” Bottles of Pappy Van Winkle, jugs of bourbon, and several containers, including a stainless steel barrel, surrounded the Franklin County Sheriff’s podium. All that was missing was a few rifles and a couple silencers. But as you will read, there were guns and silencers. They just didn’t bring them out for the press.
Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton called the theft an “organized crime” effort that involved steroids, stolen Wild Turkey and Eagle Rare barrels, as well as cases of Pappy Van Winkle and Eagle Rare. A grand jury indicted the nine defendants on several felony counts, ranging in a Class C Felony of “receiving stolen property $10,000 or more” to second degree, first offenses of “complicity trafficking in a controlled substance.”
Melton said this “criminal syndicate” was formed at softball games and included a long-time Buffalo Trace employee. Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, 46, was considered the ringleader, and had worked at Buffalo Trace for 26 years. Mark Searcy, who worked for Wild Turkey, and Chris Preston, who worked for Buffalo Trace, were also indicted.
The indictment indicates this alleged syndicate operated between January 1, 2008, and April 7, 2015, to collaborate to steal bourbon from Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace. They then allegedly sold the spirits for as much as $1,500 per barrel. Assistant Franklin County prosecutor Zachary M. Becker said all products were sold below market value, and the sheriff said no product was sold through a licensed retailer.
While Franklin County officials confirmed the bourbon was the moneymaker of the operation, it was likely the steroid business that raised suspicions. According to Melton, the United States Postal Service found anabolic steroids from China addressed to one of the defendants. Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said in a taped telecast that the Commonwealth’s cyber crimes division aided in investigation, indicating that this was a multi-agency state investigation. Through a search warrant, law enforcement confiscated cell phones, hard drives, guns and silencers, and five barrels of Wild Turkey on March 11. Tips led to other products and barrels being recovered.
In addition to the Wild Turkey, Becker said the syndicate allegedly obtained and distributed 20 cases of Pappy Van Winkle, 50 to 70 cases of Eagle Rare, nine stainless steel barrels from Buffalo Trace, and four types of anabolic steroids. Despite working with law enforcement in Indiana and West Virginia, surrounding counties, and a federal agency, Becker said the U.S. Attorneys Office has not expressed interest in the case.
The investigation remains ongoing with more “persons of interest,” said Melton, who would not comment on who the persons were or where they’re located.
As for what happens to the bourbon, officials said the barrels and the contents will be destroyed, because the state cannot guarantee the barrel’s contents. But Melton said he is trying to save the stolen Pappy Van Winkle bottles for the Van Winkle family. “We’re hoping the family can get the bottles back since they’re sealed,” Melton said.
For the time being, Pappy and the soon-to-be busted barrels sit in evidence, awaiting the trial of Curtsinger and his alleged syndicate.