1. Meet your alleged ringleader
Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, 45, a “senior employee” of the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Curtsinger, who worked in shipping, allegedly ran the primo bourbon theft conspiracy from 2008 until it was busted in April of 2015. Police say that during that time he routinely bragged “that he always had 20 cases of Pappy on hand in his basement.” He was arrested in late April, charged with the bourbon theft, and also with trafficking in controlled substances, including anabolic steroids.
2. His whole property reeked of bourbon
After receiving an anonymous tip, sheriff deputies went to the home of Curtsinger and his wife, Julie. The cops knocked on the door to no avail, and went around back into the woods behind the house to look in the yard. There they spotted “what appeared to be one barrel covered with a grey colored tarp.” The cops “could actually smell the bourbon from where we were located.” They got a warrant, came back, and found four other barrels under the tarp, with the distillery markings blotted out with spray paint. They then got a second warrant to enter the house, and found multiple varieties of steroids, including Anavar, Dianabol, and Human Growth Hormone; needles for injecting steroids; “numerous firearms,” including a backpack full of handguns and a pink rifle; cash; and “a very large safe.” When questioned, Curtsinger said he was just holding the barrels for Mark “Sean” Searcy, a driver for Wild Turkey who was also arrested as part of the syndicate.
3. He was allegedly a pain in the ass at work
Curtsinger’s former colleagues told authorities “he would sabotage someone’s work in order to punish them for not doing something he wanted them to do,” including a time he “took a hose out of… a coworker’s tank of alcohol that she was working with and let it pour out in order to sabotage her… and get her in trouble.” Why’d they put up with this? Here’s a clue: “Toby often 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.”
4. He wasn’t great at deflecting suspicion
At one point a supervisor believed she caught Curtsinger stealing bottles of Pappy. According to police: “She had found the Pappy Van Winkle inventory to be short… and found several cases hidden behind a guard rail in the warehouse. She suspected Toby was the one stealing it because he worked in shipping and had access.” She moved the bourbon back. His reaction may not have helped his cause: “He accosted her and demanded to know where she had moved the Pappy Van Winkle… and demanded access to it, despite not needing any for orders he was working to fill.”
5. It wasn’t actually that hard to steal the Pappy
The former supervisor told police that the Pappy, though extremely valuable, was kept locked in a cage with a faulty door whose hinges could easily be removed. Also, because inventory was only done when the bourbon was placed in the cage, and not again until it was taken out to be sold, “she believed the Pappy theft of 2013… occurred over a long period of time.” She urged the maintenance department to properly weld the hinges. They did not.
6. Turns out stolen Pappy is a relative bargain
Especially if you buy it in bulk. One man named in the report met Curtsinger at the gym. He knew he worked for Buffalo Trace and asked if Curtsinger knew any way that he could buy some Pappy. Curtsinger said yes, and the man bought a bottle of 20-year for $850, and nine bottles of various ages for $3,000. The buyer passed the bottles along to associates from coast to coast: Sacramento, Dallas, and New Jersey, according to the area codes of the phone numbers that he later gave to police. In April, when he realized what he’d actually bought, he rounded up the bottles and returned them to authorities.
7. It wasn’t actually that hard to steal whole barrels, either
Prosecutors allege the gang stole barrels of Wild Turkey in transit. The company regularly moves barrels from its distillery in Lawrenceburg to a second facility in Nicholasville, so all driver and alleged co-conspirator Sean Searcy had to do was stop the truck someplace between point A and point B — that place being his step-dad’s barn down a dead-end country road (more on that later) — where he could roll a few barrels off the truck using an aluminum ladder. And the company’s inventory control policies were loose enough that no one was any the wiser. According to police reports, the barrels were sold for as much as $3,000 each.
But why steal a barrel when they could steal a whole pallet of bottled bourbon? “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.”
Another heist ran more like a prison break. According to one account, Curtsinger allegedly filled 55gal barrels with Eagle Rare, let them sit for a few days, and slapped stickers on them that the company uses on barrels marked for removal and destruction. Then he just removed the barrels.
8. It was actually just pretty easy to steal bourbon, period
Why? The bourbon industry is still basically stuck in the last century. That’s what makes it great, but it’s also what causes outsiders to scratch their heads to think about a whole facility producing such a valuable commodity with near-zero inventory control and extremely lax HR policies. But fear not, due to the heist, the ensuing press coverage, and the recent corporatization of local distilleries, the bourbon industry is being dragged into the future by a robot forklift. Sazerac, the parent company of Buffalo Trace, is spending $70 million on a new automated warehouse. So very soon, the Pappy will be in much safer hands. At least until our robot overlords develop a taste for it, too.
9. The demand for black market bourbon was strong among fools
According to text messages between conspirators. (The following texts are taken from the report, and read from bottom to top unless otherwise noted. Also, it’s not entirely clear from the report which of the accused is texting whom.)