Attorney: Bardstown High principal wanted to buy Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, not sell it

Sixty-five cases — or approximately 195 bottles — of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year-old bourbon (center) were stolen over the past two months from Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort.
Sixty-five cases — or approximately 195 bottles — of Pappy Van Winkle 20-year-old bourbon (center) were stolen over the past two months from Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. Herald-Leader

Surveillance camera footage might have led investigators to a dead end in their search for the thief who took 65 cases of expensive Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon from a Frankfort distillery.

Bardstown High School principal Chris Pickett was identified as the man in the video at a Hardin County liquor store. Police had said that the man in the video was a person of interest in the case. A clerk at the store had said the man in the video had sought to sell a large amount of the pricey bourbon.

Pickett's attorney, Doug Hubbard, acknowledged Monday that his client was in the video and was at the liquor store, but he insisted Pickett was trying to buy some Pappy Van Winkle, not sell it.

Pickett was interviewed by detectives from the Franklin County Sheriff's Department on Monday afternoon, Hubbard said.

"We answered all of the questions that they had," he said. "All we can do is relate what we remember that happened. And that we did."

The sheriff's department circulated the surveillance video Wednesday.

The man in the film is wearing a purple Bardstown High School sweatshirt.

Frankfort's Buffalo Trace Distillery, which makes Pappy Van Winkle, reported Oct. 15 that 195 bottles of the 20-year-old bourbon had disappeared from the distillery. Nine cases of rare Pappy Van Winkle rye also were stolen. The total value was estimated at more than $26,000.

The surveillance video, which the Hardin liquor store provided, seemed to be a break in the case.

But Hubbard said in a telephone interview Monday that Pickett had been having lunch at a restaurant across the street from the liquor store, and he went inside to ask about "collectible" bourbon. Pickett asked about two kinds of collectible Pappy, and the store had neither, Hubbard said.

"He (Pickett) is a collector," Hubbard said. "He told them he had Pappy in his collection and was looking to add to it, and then left. The whole thing was less than 90 seconds."

Hubbard emphasized that Pickett wanted to buy some of the expensive bourbon, not sell it. He said he didn't know how the confusion occurred.

"I think they (people at the store) knew the theft had taken place, and they called to report what happened," Hubbard said. "Somewhere along the line, they were mistaken about him trying to sell it.

"There's nothing about it that makes sense. Nor do I know for sure what their story is."

Hubbard said he visited the liquor store Saturday.

"We went to interview them, and one of the people did not remember anything about it all," he said. "The other one was instructed by the store owner not to talk to anybody unless the police were present."

Hubbard said Pickett was in Hilton Head, S.C., last week to attend a relative's wedding. Someone called to tell him he was in the surveillance video, which was being shown by various television stations. Pickett then called Hubbard in Bardstown and asked that he represent him, Hubbard said.

Hubbard told The Kentucky Standard that Pickett has never been to the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Melton declined to comment about the case Monday. He said his office was swamped with media calls Monday morning after reports that Pickett was in the video.

"We've not said who that individual" in the video is, he said.

The sheriff said his office was running down leads. None of the missing alcohol has turned up, he said.

"Detectives are working the case and following up on every lead that we have right now," he said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader