FRANKFORT — Court documents filed Thursday say that Gilbert "Toby" Curtsinger, the alleged ringleader in the thefts of bourbon from Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort and Wild Turkey in Anderson County, was suspected of stealing years before detectives discovered bourbon barrels in March at his Franklin County home.
The documents also give new details about alleged lax security at Buffalo Trace, such as hinges that could be taken off a locked gate to gain access to rare and expensive Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.
The new details are included in 350 pages of interviews with witnesses, photographs, cellphone logs, search warrant affidavits and other investigative papers filed in the Franklin Circuit Court cases of Shaun Ballard of Richmond and Ronnie Lee Hubbard of Georgetown, two co-defendants in the bourbon theft ring who pleaded guilty on Wednesday. Ballard and Hubbard are described by a prosecutor as "middlemen" who sold bourbon stolen by Curtsinger.
During the course of their investigation, detectives with the Franklin County sheriff's office learned that Curtsinger was suspected of stealing bourbon some years ago; the exact time isn't described in the documents made public Thursday.
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In any case, a detective interviewed Debbie Ledett, Curtsinger's former supervisor, who said she had once found the Pappy Van Winkle inventory to be short.
"She looked around the warehouse to find the potentially stolen Pappy and found several cases hidden behind a guardrail in the warehouse," the report says. "She suspected Toby was the one stealing it because he worked in shipping and had access to the Pappy."
Her suspicions grew when she moved the Pappy Van Winkle, and Curtsinger "accosted her and demanded to know where she had moved the Pappy Van Winkle. He was demanding to know where the pallet had been moved to and demanded access to it, despite not needing any for orders he was working to fill," the report says.
Another former Buffalo Trace employee, Macaire Benson, told a detective that she thought the theft of Pappy Van Winkle had occurred "over a long period of time, perhaps two years."
Benson said there had been numerous instances of theft during her time at Buffalo Trace.
Benson said "that the gate that locked the cage where the Pappy Van Winkle was stored was faulty. Faulty, in that the hinges could be removed and the gate opened without opening the lock."
Benson said she had "recommended that the maintenance department weld the hinges shut on the side of the gate so no one could open it."
Benson told the detective that the Pappy Van Winkle stolen in 2013 "could have easily been taken over a period of two years because inventory is completed on the Pappy when it is placed in the cage and not again until it is sold and needed for an order."
Austin Johnson, a co-worker with Curtsinger, told detectives that Curtsinger bragged "about having a lot of Pappy Van Winkle at his home on a regular basis."
Once, Johnson told detectives, Curtsinger told how he and Sean Searcy of Lawrenceburg, a Wild Turkey employee, "used an aluminum ladder to roll the barrels out of the truck onto the ground." Johnson also said that Curtsinger bragged to him that at one point he and another employee "had once stolen a pallet of Eagle Rare whiskey from Buffalo Trace.
"Toby admitted they parked in an adjoining parking lot near their designated work area. When it was possible, they took a pallet by forklift across to the fence of the adjoining parking lot and sat the pallet in the back of a pickup truck," the report says.
Later that same day, Curtsinger and the other employee took the pallet to Curtsinger's home in Franklin County "and packed all the contents of the pallet into Curtsinger's basement."
Curtsinger told Johnson that the amount of liquor was so heavy that the other employee's truck "dragged the driveway when he pulled in," the report says.
Johnson told detectives that he felt pressured by Curtsinger to do things because Curtsinger was a senior employee at Buffalo Trace. Curtsinger "would sabotage someone's work in order to punish them for not helping him do something he wanted them to do," Johnson told detectives.
For example, Johnson recounted how Curtsinger said he once removed a hose from a tank of alcohol and let it pour out in order to get a female co-worker into trouble. A human resources manager at Buffalo Trace confirmed to police that an incident such as the one described by Johnson had occurred.
Johnson also told detectives that Curtsinger had a "silenced .22-caliber pistol that he fired in the parking lot of Buffalo Trace into a dirt pile. Toby did this where other people could see this and it was intimidating."
The newly filed documents also give more detail about the alleged involvement of Mike Wells, a Frankfort police officer who resigned last week from the department after he was named in the investigation. Wells, who was a Drug Resistance Awareness Education instructor, has not been charged.
Wells told detectives that he placed orders for anabolic steroids with Curtsinger, the report says. The steroids for several people were purchased from a website.
"Each person would pitch in a certain amount of money to cover the cost of their order and they would all split the shipping costs," the report says. "Wells stated that he always ordered a personal amount of steroids and would use them himself. Wells would collect the money from each person putting in an order and buy the money order to place the order. He would then give the order to Toby," who would have the order sent to his Franklin County address.
A detective asked Wells about allegations that Curtsinger had large amounts of bourbon.
"Wells stated that while working with his dad replacing chain link fence at Wild Turkey, he saw employees taking jars and jugs and filling them during work hours from a big storage tank that had a valve on it. The employees would put the jars and jugs under the valve and dispense alcohol at will," the report says.
"Wells stated that Toby had given him several jugs of bourbon on a few occasions and he believed Toby had got the bourbon just like he observed employees doing at Wild Turkey. He never thought it to be stolen."
Wells also told of a high-ranking Frankfort police officer who allegedly kept a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle that Wells had obtained so it could be given away by the Kentucky Tactical Officers Association at a conference.
When Wells gave the bottle to the officer, the officer replied, "This is pretty nice. I think I will keep it for my collection," the report says. Wells said he never saw the bottle given away at an association function.
The officer has not been charged. Zach Becker, assistant commonwealth's attorney, had no comment when asked about the episode.