Authorities close to revealing details of bourbon theft

AP News
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Posted: Apr 17, 2015 8:11 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The mystery of who's been spiriting away barrels of Kentucky bourbon might soon have a resolution, as authorities seem close to revealing details about a possible theft ring.

So far, one person has been arrested in the theft of Wild Turkey bourbon from a Kentucky warehouse, but a prosecutor signaled Friday that the case is much broader.

Franklin County Commonwealth's Attorney Larry Cleveland said he expects multiple people to be indicted as his office prepared to present the case to a grand jury in Frankfort, Kentucky.

"If all things fall into place and nothing else develops, we'd go and present that case for indictment on Tuesday," he said.

Investigators have recovered barrels and bottles of stolen whiskey; the volume is significant, the prosecutor said.

"It's more than I could imagine one person drinking in a lifetime," Cleveland said.

Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton said the case has mushroomed from an investigation that began with the recovery of barrels of Wild Turkey bourbon found behind a shed, with spray paint covering the labeling on top of each barrel. Bourbon barrels weigh hundreds of pounds each when filled with aging whiskey.

"I'm amazed at the amount of bourbon that we've recovered, the amount of bourbon that's been stolen," he said.

Melton has been prepared in past weeks to offer details about the case, only to pull back as investigators pursued new leads. Cleveland also said the case has been evolving.

"Once you think you've got it contained, something else develops, somebody else shows up with some whiskey, you find out another theft of whiskey, and you find out about another player," Cleveland said.

Investigators were assisted by the cybercrimes unit in state Attorney General Jack Conway's office, the sheriff said.

One person arrested so far is Gilbert Thomas Curtsinger, a longtime employee at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. He has pleaded not guilty to multiple offenses, including receiving stolen property over $10,000.

Curtsinger's attorney, Whitney True Lawson, declined to comment on the case Friday.

The stolen Wild Turkey bourbon barrels — valued at about $3,000 each — were taken from a central Kentucky warehouse. Wild Turkey's owner, Italian-based Gruppo Campari, has said there were no signs anyone broke into the warehouse.

Bourbon coming off the still is put into new, charred oak barrels for aging in warehouses, a traditional process that gives the whiskey its distinctive taste and color.

Authorities won't say whether the Wild Turkey heist is connected with the still-unsolved theft of pricey Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and rye whiskey two years ago. That hard-to-get whiskey was taken from the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

The heist netted 195 bottles of 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve bourbon and 27 bottles of 13-year-old Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye. That missing whiskey had a retail value at the time of about $26,000.

Kentucky is home to about 95 percent of the world's bourbon production, and about 5.3 million barrels of bourbon are aging in the state, said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers' Association.

Gregory said the industry is waiting for details to indicate whether the thefts were isolated or part of a larger pattern.

"If there is something that would require the industry to take a long, hard look at our security measures, I can guarantee you that they would do it," he said.