Prosecutor: Mastermind of whiskey theft ring to enter plea

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The alleged mastermind of a whiskey theft ring in Kentucky appears to be ready to enter a plea in a case that has lasted as long as it takes whiskey to age into bourbon.

Gilbert "Toby" Curtsinger, accused of being at the center of a scheme that authorities say siphoned tens of thousands of dollars' worth of bourbon from a pair of distilleries, is scheduled to enter a plea next Wednesday, prosecutor Zach Becker said during a Friday court hearing.

Curtsinger's case was on the docket Friday in Franklin County Circuit Court in Frankfort, Kentucky, but his attorney said a bit more time was needed for the negotiations.

"We're still trying to get a few little things worked out," defense attorney Whitney Lawson said in a phone interview Friday.

Becker and Lawson declined to offer details about the looming agreement on Friday.

Curtsinger was among nine people initially indicted in 2015 on charges of spiriting away large volumes of whiskey, by both the bottle and the barrel.

Sheriff Pat Melton estimated the recovered whiskey was worth at least $100,000.

The theft includes some prestigious brands, such as Pappy Van Winkle bourbon that was taken from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, authorities said. The thefts also targeted the Wild Turkey distillery. Both distilleries are in the heart of Kentucky's famed bourbon country, and the heists and resulting criminal case became known as "Pappygate."

Curtsinger, a longtime Buffalo Trace employee, pleaded not guilty to charges that included engaging in organized crime, receiving stolen property over $10,000 and trafficking in a controlled substance. Authorities say they cracked not only whiskey thefts but a steroid-trafficking scheme as part of the investigation.

Authorities have said Curtsinger often relied on go-betweens to find customers, and the group often made connections through softball tournaments.

In all, 10 people were indicted, and so far eight have entered guilty pleas, Becker said Friday. Sentencings have been delayed pending resolution of all the cases.

The case has lasted so long that whiskey just off the still and put into new charred oak barrels around the time of the initial indictments could now be considered straight bourbon, which has to age at least two years under federal standards.

Once all the criminal cases are concluded, one big issue will remain: what to do with the confiscated bourbon. Becker has had discussions with the producers of the purloined whiskey.

"It's subject to the court's approval, but it's largely their call," he said.