Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Nine Indicted in Kentucky Whiskey Theft Ring

Gilbert Thomas Curtsinger (pictured), who worked at Buffalo Trace Distillery, was one of nine persons indicted today in Franklin County, Kentucky. The indictments and other details of the case were announced at an early-afternoon news conference by Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton. Curtsinger was the ringleader, according to authorities. Julie Curtsinger, his wife, was also indicted.

Here is the latest from Associated Press reporter Bruce Schreiner.

The investigation of the criminal gang responsible for thefts at Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey is ongoing. It involves long-term employees of both distilleries. The gang was also involved in the importation and distribution of illegal steroids. Thefts go back to at least 2008. The famous Van Winkle theft, which was reported all over the world, was committed by this gang.

Indicted in addition to the Curtsingers were Mark S. Searcy, Lawrenceburg; Ronnie Lee Hubbard, Georgetown; Dusty H. Adkins, Georgetown; Christopher L. Preston, Frankfort; Joshua T. Preston, Frankfort; Robert M. McKinney, Frankfort; and Shawn R. Ballard, Richmond.

The recovered whiskey in barrels may have to be destroyed but the whiskey in bottles may be returned to its rightful owners.

Apparently the whiskey still in barrels was sold very casually. The conspirators who worked at the distilleries would say to a friend, "hey, we made too much. Would you like to buy a barrel?" They were selling barrels valued at $3,000 to $6,000 each for $1,200-$1,500. The buyers in many cases didn't realize they were receiving stolen merchandise, they just thought they were getting a good deal because they knew someone at the distillery. When the thing began to unravel, people called the sheriff themselves and said, "I think I may have one of those barrels."

"There was stuff walking out of there frequently," said Sheriff Melton about Buffalo Trace. Among the products stolen were steel drums containing bourbon intended for Eagle Rare 17-year-old, part of the Buffalo Trace Antiques Collection. The whiskey has been stored in steel drums to prevent it from aging further.


Anonymous said...

I hate to say this, but what kind of operation are these people running there. I guess there was absolutely no oversight of employees. And I hate to sound like management, but what kind of employee was this. It makes everyone look bad.

Erik Fish said...

Actually, it makes the thieves look bad and no one else. What do you want, Homeland Security agents stationed at every back door? This is a rather uncommon occurrence; as far as I can tell, the whiskey industry isn't exactly overrun by an epidemic of skimmers and whiskey robbers, so obviously the vast majority of people working there are honest folks and this simply falls in the "Sxxt happens" category. No need to install "whiskey detectors" at every door and have all employees take off their shoes and empty their pockets before leaving after their shift.

MGM said...

I would not be surprised if this were a very common occurrence. It seems these distillers were unaware or uncaring about the thefts until it reached the Pappy level. As the article notes, "One change Melton predicted: The industry will be revamping security measures across the board."

What bothers me the most in this story is that despite the rather brazen approach to stealing the whiskey, the police were clueless as to had stolen it. They stumbled across it in a completely unrelated drug raid.

And the real crime has yet to be committed in this case: "At the end of the case, the bourbon will be destroyed, the authorities said."

Michael Shoshani said...

On the one hand, "Hey, we overproduced! Would you like to buy a large, heavy container made of a combustible organic material that's filled with a highly flammable liquid, and store it in your wood-framed house?" apparently failed to raise any alarm bells in anyone's head.

On the other hand, with so many distilleries expanding, one would think that the question would be how on earth a distillery could possibly overproduce, especially a distillery like Buffalo Trace which has suffered market shortages of some of its flagship brands and expressions at times.

One thing the AP stories haven't brought up yet that I've seen is the fact that distillery warehouses are usually under some form of government auditing control, because all those barrels of spirit are taxed. Plus I would imagine it's difficult to impossible to legally make off with a barrel or two from the distillery premises without at best a rectifier's license. There's no question in my mind that Uncle Sam is waiting for the local/state agencies to wrap up their work before stepping forward to really let the Steroid Bourbon Gang members know just how deeply in organic fertilizer they've gotten themselves.

Kris K. said...

Think of the marketing gold Buffalo Trace could mine from this, turning bad publicity into a cash cow. First they release E.H. Taylor 'Tornado Surviving' Bourbon, now they can release an incredibly limited supply of Pappy Van Winkle and Eagle Rare 17 'Kidnap Surviving' Bourbon.

Can't wait until I see Eagle Rare 17 Kidnapped for $47 an ounce on a menu.

VT Mike said...

They might have gotten away with it if they didn't get greedy and jump on the Pappy bandwagon.