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June 2, 2018 – Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, the admitted ringleader of Kentucky’s most infamous whiskey thefts since Prohibition, was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison in Franklin County Circuit Court. Last September, Curtsinger pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the thefts of more than $100,000 worth of whiskey from Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace, where he worked as a warehouse supervisor. He was one of ten people indicted by a grand jury in 2015 after sheriff’s deputies recovered stolen Wild Turkey barrels in his back yard following an anonymous tip, and detectives later linked the ring to the 2013 theft of approximately 65 cases of Pappy Van Winkle whiskies from a Buffalo Trace warehouse.
“I am very pleased to be seeing the end of this road,” Franklin County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Zachary Becker told WhiskyCast in a telephone interview following the sentencing. Becker successfully prosecuted eight of the ten suspects indicted in the case, while charges were dropped against Curtsinger’s father-in-law in exchange for his cooperation and one case remains yet to go to trial. Former Wild Turkey truck driver Mark Sean Searcy still faces charges that he stole barrels he had been assigned to deliver from the distillery to a maturation warehouse and gave them to Curtsinger to sell in exchange for a cut of the profits. No date has been set for a trial in that case.
Curtsinger and his accomplices sold bottles of stolen whiskey out of their car trunks at area softball games, and also sold several full barrels of whiskey as well. Depending on the outcome of the Searcy case, Curtsinger is the only one who will serve time in prison as the other defendants all pleaded guilty and will receive probation for cooperating with the investigation. His attorney, Whitney True Lawson, told reporters after the hearing that she will consider filing a motion to have Curtsinger’s sentence reduced to “shock probation” at an appropriate time. According to Becker, that could allow Curtsinger to be released after serving as little as 30 days in prison, and under normal circumstances, Curtsinger would be eligible for parole after serving 20 percent of his sentence.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Zachary Becker:
“Pappygate” received worldwide attention following the announcement of the 2013 theft at Buffalo Trace, in which cases of Pappy Van Winkle whiskey had been rearranged on pallets to hide the missing cases from view. The Van Winkle family and Buffalo Trace have declined comment on the thefts ever since then, except for a brief statement thanking authorities after the indictments were returned in April of 2015. Wild Turkey issued one brief comment on its Twitter feed at that same time.
In addition to the pending Searcy case, there remains one final question for Frankin County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate to resolve: the fate of the stolen whiskies seized as evidence during the investigation – and held in a secured evidence locker until all of the cases have been tried. While a “Pardon My Pappy” campaign briefly went viral in 2015 seeking to have the whiskies auctioned for charity, the most likely outcome is that the whiskies will be destroyed, including:
- 21 wooden barrels of whiskey – according to Becker, “some full and a few empty”
- 1 stainless steel barrel of Eagle Rare 17
- the contents of three barrels that had been bottled by purchasers, and
- 28 bottles of various Van Winkle whiskies.
Zachary Becker indicated that he will eventually file a motion with Judge Wingate asking for a ruling on what should be done with the evidence “in a manner consistent with the wishes of the Van Winkles, Buffalo Trace Distillery and Wild Turkey Distillery.” However, he declined to disclose what those wishes were at the present time.
In an email, Buffalo Trace CEO Mark Brown declined to comment on the Curtsinger sentencing, but repeated the distillery’s previous position that the whiskies should be destroyed.
“Consistent with our past position on the stock we believe that from a food safety perspective (it could easily contain counterfeit liquid) the product should be destroyed, unfortunate, but since it has been out of our custody for so long destroying the stock is the only safe and prudent course of action.”
WhiskyCast has also asked Wild Turkey for its position on the fate of the stolen whiskies. This story will be updated with additional information as necessary.