State

Warrants that turned up stolen bourbon are upheld by judge

With recovered bourbon surrounding him, Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton talked about indictments in a whiskey theft ring during a news conference in April 2015 at the sheriff’s office in Frankfort. Several people have since pleaded guilty in the case, and the alleged ringleader and his wife face trial. The theft targeted the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries and included Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.
With recovered bourbon surrounding him, Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton talked about indictments in a whiskey theft ring during a news conference in April 2015 at the sheriff’s office in Frankfort. Several people have since pleaded guilty in the case, and the alleged ringleader and his wife face trial. The theft targeted the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey distilleries and included Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. cbertram@herald-leader.com

A Franklin County Circuit Court judge has denied a motion by defendants in the Pappy Van Winkle case to suppress the search warrants used to turn up barrels of stolen bourbon.

Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas D. Wingate, in an order Monday, said the search warrants issued by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd were not overly broad. Wingate also ruled that defendants Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger and Julie Curtsinger are not entitled to an evidentiary hearing because they did not allege any “deliberate falsehood or ... reckless disregard for the truth” in the warrant affidavits supporting either the first or the second search warrant.

According to the opinion, the Franklin County sheriff’s office received an anonymous tip on March 11, 2015, that Toby Curtsinger had five barrels of stolen Wild Turkey bourbon behind his house in Frankfort, delivered there by a Wild Turkey driver.

Three Franklin County officers knocked on the door of the Curtsingers’ home at 50 St. Johns Road and got no response. They followed a gravel path behind the house to a public utility cell tower in a forested area but couldn’t spot any barrels. After contacting the tipster again, the tipster sent a photo showing the barrels near a pool. Eventually, according to the court documents, the officers spotted the barrels “in plain view, behind an outbuilding ... numerous plastic tarps that were covering what were readily apparent ... to be numerous bourbon barrels.” They also smelled a strong odor of bourbon, according to the affidavit.

Photos of the barrels were attached to the first warrant affidavit, used to obtain the first search warrant that afternoon for Wild Turkey barrels. After the initial search confirmed that the barrels were filled with bourbon, a second warrant affidavit was submitted. The top and bottom of each barrel had been spray-painted black to obscure the distillery marks, but the detectives had confirmed that Curtsinger, allegedly the ringleader of the bourbon thefts, worked at Buffalo Trace Distillery, which had reported hundreds of pricey bottles of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon missing in 2013.

Shepherd issued a second warrant to search the house and outbuildings for any “bourbon barrels, bottles, containers, notes, letters, documents, recordings, records, cellular telephones, computers, data storage devices, safes, firearms, monies and any other evidence that further tends to indicate theft of bourbon and bourbon barrels.”

The Curtsingers and seven others were indicted on April 21, 2015, and accused of stealing more than $100,000 in bourbon from Wild Turkey Distillery in Anderson County and Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. The Curtsingers, who have pleaded not guilty, also were charged with trafficking in controlled substances and possession of drug paraphernalia. At least three of those charged have pleaded guilty and have agreed to testify in the case. A 10th person, a former Buffalo Trace security guard, was later indicted in May 2015 after confessing to taking bribes to look the other way while thefts occurred during the distillery’s ghost tours.

In March 2016, the Curtsingers filed a motion to suppress arguing that both search warrants lacked probable cause because they were based on an uncorroborated anonymous tip and that the second warrant was overly broad.

In Monday’s order, Wingate ruled that the officers did not intrude on the Curtsingers’ home surroundings or property in the original observation of the barrels and that Shepherd had probable cause to issue the warrants because the original tip had been sufficiently corroborated.

  Comments