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July 2, 2018 – After serving just one month of the 15-year prison sentence he received for his role in the thefts of tens of thousands of dollars worth of whiskey from Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries, Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger is out of prison. Friday, Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate granted a motion filed by Curtsinger’s attorney for “shock probation” and ordered his release Sunday after serving 30 days.
Kentucky is one of the states that allows a first-time offender convicted of a non-violent felony to request “shock probation.” The idea is that those offenders are likely to be “shocked” into good behavior after serving just a short time in prison, and generally spend a significant portion of their original sentence under the supervision of probation officers.
According to the Associated Press, prosecutor Zachary Becker had no objections to Curtsinger’s release during a hearing Friday in Frankfort. Becker told the judge he thought Curtsinger had been “appropriately shocked by this experience, so as not to reoffend,” given the punishments he’s received “both in and out of this courtroom.” Kentucky’s prison system is buckling under the weight of the opioid epidemic, and could run out of available beds in less than a year. Given that, Becker noted that there are drug dealers and violent offenders “who deserve his cot in jail more than he does.” Becker has not been available for an interview since the hearing.
Curtsinger was fired from his warehouse job at Buffalo Trace immediately after his 2015 arrest, and was the only one of ten people indicted by a Franklin County grand jury in connection with the “PappyGate” thefts. The group was accused of stealing barrels and bottles of whiskey from both distilleries over several years and selling it on the black market, with many of the sales coming at recreational softball league games. The investigation began in 2013 when Buffalo Trace reported the theft of around 65 cases of that year’s Pappy Van Winkle whiskies, but reached a dead end until sheriff’s deputies received a tip in 2015 that led them to Curtsinger’s house and several barrels of stolen Wild Turkey whiskey.
Despite his plea agreement, in which he pleaded guilty to theft and receiving stolen property from both distilleries, Curtsinger continues to maintain he had no role in the 2013 Pappy Van Winkle theft. Curtsinger gave his first interview since his arrest to Bloomberg Businessweek, in which he claimed he started stealing whiskey from Buffalo Trace in 2003 after a supervisor gave him a pass to take barrels from a warehouse being used for whiskey that didn’t meet production standards. Buffalo Trace executives declined to comment on Curtsinger’s allegations or his release on shock probation.
The next – and possibly final – hearing in the case is scheduled for July 13, when Judge Wingate will rule on a motion to officially return the stolen whiskey seized as evidence to both distilleries. Both have indicated they plan to destroy the whiskey, since there is no way to guarantee its quality or safety after being out of their custody.
This story will be updated with additional information as necessary.