Prosecutors: Pappy heist part of 7-year organized bourbon, drug conspiracy

Bourbon heist timeline
Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Det. Jeff Farmer (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Det. Jeff Farmer (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Franklin County Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Zach Becker (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Franklin County Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Zach Becker (Source: WAVE 3 News)

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Sixty-five cases of Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve, the 20-year-old ultra-premium pride of Buffalo Trace, were gone without a trace for more than a year-and-a-half. But as of Tuesday, eight men and a woman stood accused of its theft in an indictment that alleges they were engaged in organized crime - a conspiracy to steal and sell bourbon and to sell steroids, dating to 2008.

"This all came together through softball," Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton said. "Why would that not shock you, right?

Gilbert "Toby" Curtsinger, 45, a Buffalo Trace employee from Frankfort, is accused of being the operation's ringleader. Prosecutors say he knew the others accused in the conspiracy socially or through softball.

[PREVIOUS STORY: 9 people indicted in high-profile bourbon heists]

"Primarily what we had here is just individuals that worked at the distilleries who knew what the security precautions were," Franklin County Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Zach Becker said. "Knew how to bypass them, and took advantage of their trust."

Of the eight others indicted, Christopher L. Preston, 45, also worked for Buffalo Trace. Mark Searcy, 49, was employed at Wild Turkey, Sheriff Melton said.

"You've got the steroid side of this and you've got the bourbon side," the Sheriff said. "They intertwine."

But Curtsinger is alleged to have been the primary dealmaker.

"They (customers) felt comfortable with him," Det. Jeff Farmer said. "He presented himself as a Buffalo Trace employee – he got it on discount - he was wearing a t-shirt that had Buffalo Trace insignia on it."

"And people would wind up (thinking) 'Oh, what a bargain,'" Sheriff Melton said. "How many people do you know have a barrel of bourbon in their house?"

Curtsinger's ties to the steroids investigation lead to discovery of bottles of Pappy Van Winkle and barrels of Wild Turkey, investigators said.

A broader examination of computer hard-drives and cell phones led to other members of the alleged conspiracy, and to customers, Becker said.

"We recovered an additional 12 barrels, wooden from Scott County, Harrison County, Laurel County," Becker said. "An additional nine stainless steel barrels of Eagle Rare, 20 cases of Pappy Van Winkle, an additional 5 to 70 cases of Eagle Rare and other bourbons."

The oak barrels are valued at $3,000 to $6,000 a piece. The stainless steel barrels at $11,000 to $12,000 each.

"All we know is we recovered quite a bit of forensic evidence from these cell phones indicating the steroid trafficking and the trafficking in this bourbon," Becker said.

Sheriff Melton singled out Attorney General Jack Conway's Cyber Crimes Unit as key to examining such evidence.

Executives and managers of Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey Distilleries declined comment, citing the ongoing criminal investigation. Via written statement, both praised the investigative efforts.

"My understanding is some of the distilleries have a better understanding of security than others," said Becker. "I'm sure they're going to be revamping all their security measures as a result of this."

"They (investigators) have done just an absolutely incredible job," Sheriff Melton said, his voice breaking.

Bourbon aficionados have expressed similar sentiments upon learning of the spirits' fate.

"Most of it will be destroyed," Sheriff Melton said. "We can't confirm it hasn't been tampered with."

The bottles of Pappy may survive.

"It's possible we could return them to the family stock," Melton said.

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