Crime ring busted for stealing valuable Kentucky bourbon

In 2013, 200 bottles of valuable Pappy Van Winkle bourbon whiskey were stolen from a locked and secure distillery in Kentucky. On Tuesday, authorities said they found a bourbon crime ring connected with the heist; nine people were indicted for taking more than $100,000 worth of whiskey, including the Van Winkle. Jeffrey Brown learns more about the case from Sheriff Pat Melton of Franklin County.

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    For some time now, bourbon has been back with a boom. Domestic whiskey sales are up 40 percent in the past five years. Some high-end brands, like one called Pappy Van Winkle, can fetch big money, up to $1,000 or $2,000 a bottle or more, depending on its age.

    And as prices rose, there was also a bourbon heist in Kentucky that authorities have been trying to solve that has now attracted national attention.

    Yesterday, a big crack in the case.

    Jeffrey Brown explains.


    Call it the case of the missing cases. It goes back at least to 2008 and included a 2013 high-profile theft of some 200 bottles of the much-valued Pappy Van Winkle from a locked and supposedly secure distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Those bottles had an estimated retail value of $25,000.

    Yesterday, authorities said it was an inside job, part of an organized crime ring, and indicted nine people for stealing more than $100,000 worth of whiskey overall.

    Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton has been pursuing this case and joins us now from Louisville.

    So, Sheriff Melton, an inside job. How do you steal so much bourbon for so long?

  • PAT MELTON, Sheriff, Franklin County:

    Well, obviously, Toby Curtsinger as a senior employee of Buffalo Trace distillery. Sean — Searcy was a senior employee of Wild Turkey distillery. They both had the access to where the bourbon is stored and both worked on loading docks and in transporting moving the bourbon.

    So it was actually — you know, you trust your employees. And they had the opportunity to do it. And I think it was a continued pattern of behavior. That's why we invited them for working with our commonwealth attorney's office, Larry Cleveland and Zach Becker. We indicted them for engaging in organized crime.


    This is high-end bourbon, as we said. Explain for our non-bourbon connoisseurs, what makes it so valuable?


    You know, Pappy has instilled the hearts and minds of America. And it's just — it's a high-end bourbon. People go crazy about it.

    This week, they have been releasing some of the Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. And some stores may have one, two, three, or four, or five bottles, and you may have 200 or 300 or 400 people waiting for a chance to get one bottle of it. And it's the Pappy Van Winkle. It's a family recipe and it's just — it's highly sought after. I had no idea it was that highly sought after bourbon.


    You had no idea yourself?


    No, no, absolutely not.

    I don't even have a bottle myself. So, I would love to one. But, yes, it has really captured this story back two years ago. I never would have dreamt in a million years that it would have been as big as it is and gain all the national attention it's gotten.


    Well, so do you know what the thieves did with it, who they sold it to, and how much in the end were you able to recover?


    Well, we recovered approximately $100,000 worth of bourbon, either from either Wild Turkey and/or Buffalo Trace.

    We have actually got 25 bottles in our evidence room right now of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. And then we have also got 18 barrels of bourbon as well, one of those an $11,000 barrel of Eagle Rare 17-year-old bourbon. We have got the contents from another barrel of 17-year-old Eagle Rare bourbon.

    And then we have got 16 other barrels. We're still looking for several barrels and there are still nine barrels of the Eagle Rare bourbon missing.


    And this was described as an organized syndicate, involved not only bourbon, but I read anabolic steroids. I also gather that there was some connection to a softball league or something, some of these people were connected, that allowed you to break the case?


    Yes, that's how the enterprise went.

    Toby Curtsinger was the ringleader of this group. And we had two different sides. We had a steroid side and then you had a bourbon side, where it went. And then by working with those and working with that — with this case, we started — when this case first started, we recovered five barrels of bourbon, which is a lot.

    It's 48 gallons each barrel. And they are about $3,600 to $6,000 each on the value of those. We wound up with over 18 barrels, contents of a 19th one. And we're still recovering barrels. As a result of the release yesterday and today, we have got calls today and we anticipate recovering even more stolen bourbon.


    All right, Sheriff Pat Melton of Franklin County, Kentucky, thanks so much.


    Thanks for having us. Appreciate it.

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