Ringleader of whiskey theft operation gets sentence cut

Posted at 1:09 PM, Jun 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-29 14:16:25-04

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The ringleader of a whiskey theft operation that's already a part of Kentucky lore was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but his time behind bars is ending after a month.

A judge on Friday shortened the jail time for ex-distillery worker Gilbert "Toby" Curtsinger after prosecutors raised no objection to a defense request for shock probation.

Curtsinger's release from jail could come as soon as Sunday — 30 days into his sentence, his attorney and a prosecutor said afterward. It's the least amount of time someone can serve before shock probation is allowed under state law.

During a brief court hearing, prosecutor Zachary Becker said there are too many drug traffickers and violent criminals "who deserve his cot in jail more than he does."

He added that, "I cannot in good conscience oppose this motion," given the cost of imprisoning more dangerous offenders.

Kentucky's top public safety official has said the state's prisons could run out of space by May 2019, possibly forcing the early release of thousands of nonviolent inmates as the state continues to grapple with the effects of an opioid epidemic.

Curtsinger, a former Buffalo Trace distillery employee, was at the center of the bourbon-heist scheme that spirited away tens of thousands of dollars' worth of liquor. The thefts targeted the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries. He pleaded guilty to charges that included theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property.

The thefts included hard-to-get and pricey brands such as Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. The local sheriff estimated the recovered whiskey was worth at least $100,000.

Becker said Friday he thought Curtsinger had been "appropriately shocked by this experience, so as not to reoffend," given the punishments he's received "both in and out of this courtroom."

Curtsinger's attorney, Whitney True Lawson, said Friday he has "suffered greatly because of his actions." Lawson said the case amounted to a property crime, and that Curtsinger's prior brushes with the law were limited to a couple of minor traffic offenses.

"This has been a lot of strife, a lot of struggle, a lot of hardship ... and he's got a lot of repairing that he's got to do," Lawson told reporters after the hearing. "And so I think he's eager to say that this chapter of his life is over and to see what the next chapter holds for him."

Curtsinger, who is in his late 40s, did not attend Friday's hearing. He had been painting houses as a way to help support his family before his incarceration, his attorney said.

Curtsinger faces several years of supervised probation after his release from jail, Becker said in an interview. Curtsinger has already paid the restitution — amounting to a couple of thousand dollars — required under his plea agreement, the prosecutor said.

Ten people were indicted after the scheme was uncovered in 2015. Curtsinger was the only one to serve jail time, which was "appropriate" due to his ringleader role, Becker said.

Curtsinger, who worked on the Buffalo Trace loading docks, distributed the whiskey through a syndicate that included members of his recreational softball team, authorities said.

The scheme was exposed after the Franklin County sheriff's office received an anonymous tip that several missing Wild Turkey bourbon barrels were stashed on Curtsinger's property.

Sheriff's officer found barrels containing bourbon behind an outbuilding on the property. The barrels had been sanded and spray-painted black on the tops and bottoms in what authorities believed was an effort to remove the distiller's marks.

Investigators said they cracked not only whiskey thefts but a steroid-trafficking scheme as part of the investigation.

One big question still looms: what to do with the confiscated bourbon. Becker said Friday he will file a motion soon asking that the purloined spirits be disposed of in a way that reflects the wishes of the Van Winkle family and the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries.