'Pappygate' mastermind enters guilty plea in massive bourbon theft

Man pleads guilty in "Pappygate"

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The man who prosecutors and investigators said was the mastermind of the so-called "Pappygate" bourbon theft entered a guilty plea in Franklin County Circuit Court Wednesday.

Gilbert "Toby" Curtsinger pleaded guilty to two felony counts of receiving stolen property and another felony count of theft by unlawful taking.

He was originally facing an 8-count indictment on organized crime, theft and drug charges. After a failed attempt to have evidence suppressed, Curt singer agreed to the amended charges in the deal.

The case captured international attention when barrels and bottles of expensive bourbon were discovered stolen from the Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey Distilleries in 2013.   

"I never thought we would have to have press conferences and press briefings on this case, but we did and its been a huge case and we were fortunate to be able to solve it," Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton said.

The big break for Melton’s investigators came in 2015 and a search at the home of Curtsinger who was an employee at Buffalo Trace.

Investigators revealed they found much of the missing bourbon on Curtsinger's property.

An unsuccessful attempt by his lawyers to get the evidence thrown out of court led to the Wednesday morning guilty plea.

"Do you understand, by pleading guilty, you could spend up to 15 years in a penitentiary," Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate asked Curtsinger.

"Yes, I do," he replied.

As part of the plea deal, Curtsinger will testify against Mark Searcy, a former Wild Turkey Employee, who investigators said was moving stolen Wild Turkey barrels for Curtsinger.

Despite Wednesday's developments, Curtsinger lawyer held onto a bold claim of innocence as part of the 'Pappygate' investigation.

"We had a 2013 theft from Buffalo Trace that was labeled 'Pappygate', Whitney True Lawson said, stressing the past tense of her statement, "This is wholly separate from that theft. We do not know who stole that bourbon today."

"You’re talking about a lot of bottles there, so if you want to split hairs, that's perfectly fine but that's what he pled guilty to today," Franklin County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Zachary Becker countered.

Becker said, per the deal, Curtsinger admitted to stealing 28 bottles of the popular but rare Pappy Van Winkle, 20 more cases of the same -- which was made up of 12 bottles per case -- as well as 20 cases of Eagle Rare bourbon from the two distilleries.

There is plenty more evidence being held at the sheriff's office, Becker said, including 21 wooden barrels of bourbon, a stainless-steel barrel of bourbon -- valued at more than $10 thousand -- contents of other bourbon barrels and 28 additional bottles of bourbon.

All of which may have an unfortunate fate.

"These bottles exist, these barrels exist and they might have to be destroyed," Becker said.

While prosecutors recommended 15 years in prison, Curtsinger won't be sentenced until the only remaining case against Mark Searcy is complete. Curtsinger agreed to testify against Searcy. There is currently no plea deal publicly offered to Searcy.

Curtsinger is one of 8 people who pled guilty in the investigation.

i-Team Investigator Derrick Rose can be reached at 502-582-7232 and dnrose@whas11.com. Follow him on Twitter:@WHAS11DRose

RELATED: Judge declines to suppress evidence in whiskey-theft case

 

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