By Steve Bittenbender
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) - Five people accused of stealing and selling more than $100,000 worth of expensive bourbons and other whiskeys as part of a years-long conspiracy pleaded not guilty on Friday in a Kentucky court.
Gilbert "Toby" Curtsinger, a former worker at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, denied charges that he organized the theft of barrels and bottles from Buffalo Trace and the Wild Turkey distilleries.
Acting on a tip, Franklin County Sheriff's officers discovered stolen barrels behind a shed on Curtsinger's property, prosecutors said.
Curtsinger's wife, Julie Curtsinger; Christopher Preston; Joshua Preston; and Robert McKinney also pleaded not guilty on Friday.
Gilbert Searcy, who worked at Wild Turkey, and Dusty Adkins are scheduled for arraignment next week. Two others pleaded guilty earlier this month in exchange for their cooperation.
Officials believe the liquor stolen from both distilleries was valued at more than $100,000 and included expensive brands such as Eagle Rare 17-year-old and Pappy Van Winkle 20-year-old bourbons.
In all, 10 people have been indicted on charges related to the investigation. Earlier this week, a grand jury handed down a complicity charge to Leslie Wright, who worked for a Buffalo Trace security contractor.
Wright, prosecutors say, received $800 for looking the other way on two instances when 11 stainless steel barrels were removed from the distillery.
Amy Preske, a Buffalo Trace spokeswoman, said the distillery uses the containers to hold liquor left over from bottling before deciding how to use it.
Bourbon, which is made with at least 51 percent corn and aged in oak barrels, is a $3 billion industry in Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Distillers' Association. The state produces 95 percent of the world's bourbon supply.
(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Eric Beech)