Open records requests still stranded on the bourbon trail


There are several  open records requests still stranded on the bourbon trail.

I recently won an appeal to the Attorney General’s Office  in regards to records about a Facebook post made by the Frankfort Police Department’s chief while he was on vacation.

Instead of putting it on his own page, he put it on the department’s public page.

This originally appeared not on Abrams' personal Facebook page, but the department's page at 8:37 p.m. on Monday, June 8, 2015.
This originally appeared not on Abrams’ personal Facebook page, but the department’s page at 8:37 p.m. on Monday, June 8, 2015.

While the rant doesn’t provide any new information into the case, what it should provide to outsiders is a couple of layers revealed in the unfolding of this case: the Frankfort Police Department’s administration dislikes the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and city officials ignore  actions such as this made publicly resulting from the strained relationship.

The ALL CAPS and extra exclamation marks removes any doubt of whether Abrams takes it personally that the sheriff’s investigation has  led to officers in his department.

Even though the reported statements have come from  an officer in his department from investigation documents, Abrams blames “the media” for raising suspicions and the sheriff’s office for targeting his department.

Instead of acknowledging it was the statements of an officer, he attaches the reports to the entire department’s “involvement.”

Neither in my reporting, or anyone else’s, have we indicated this involved the entire department.

But after a former Frankfort police officer was suspected of purchasing steroids with the alleged “Pappygate” ringleader, FPD Chief Jeff Abrams confirmed to me some revealing statements showing a strained relationship between the two agencies.

According to investigation documents, the officer in question kept telling detectives he was too busy to meet and answer questions related to the case..

Franklin County Sheriff Pat Melton thought he should meet with the police chief to make arrangements for investigators to meet with the officer.

The sheriff spoke with Abrams. Abrams said “he did not want to be put in the middle of this investigation and would not order (the officer name omitted) to meet with Wyatt (former chief deputy).”

Abrams confirmed that’s what he said and that  the sheriff wouldn’t tell him the circumstances of questioning Wells, as it was part of an open investigation, or is that because of the strained relationship?

“He didn’t feel he could divulge the information and I said I would stay out of it and suggested they meet when Wells was off duty.” Abrams said. “I wasn’t trying to keep them from talking to him. When I knew what they had and what they needed, I suggested they talk to him when he was off duty and not on the taxpayer’s dime.

There’s a story coming watch for the link.

I’ll post it on Twitter here:





Suppression hearing : the last stop before Pappygate trial


To suppress or not suppress: could this be the last stop before trial?

We have finally arrived at possibly the last stop “On The Bourbon Trail,” as Judge Wingate will hear arguments for and against suppression of evidence Friday in the “Pappygate” investigation.

Yeah, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted here.

Between the session and a new governor, there has been no shortage of stories at the Capitol.

But after defense attorney Whitney True Lawson came back from maternity leave, things have started rolling again.

At the end of April, prosecuting Asssistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Zach Becker and Lawson had filed arguments for and against suppression – you can find that article here in The State Journal.


Lawson argued Franklin County Sheriff detectives didn’t have probable cause to search and seize evidence from the Curtsinger property because the anonymous tip failed to contain information that could be “independently corroborated by police observations.”

In no mincing of words, Becker responded it would take more than “magical incantations” to block evidence involving law enforcement officers in an alleged steroid ring and more than $100,000 of seized bourbon from Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace distilleries.

The defense argued the Curtsingers should expect a level of privacy and their right to it was violated as the detectives didn’t have probable cause.

But Becker pointed out the Curtsingers couldn’t expect any privacy as those  five barrels of stolen Wild Turkey bourbon were located on property they didn’t own.

PVA overview shows the barrels were on commercial property not owned by the Curtsingers.
PVA overview shows the barrels were on commercial property not owned by the Curtsingers.

Countering this point brings us to Friday’s hearing.


Lawson submitted an additional response to Becker’s this week saying the prosecution shackles the expectation of privacy to property ownership and relies entirely on it.

The Curtsingers have used the commercial property, Lawson argued in her response.
For almost 20 years, Julie Curtsinger’s mother signed an affadavit, saying the couple has “mowed and maintained,” it -even if they didn’t own it.

Her mother added the outbuilding, where the barrels were found, has been there for 12 years and a “child’s playhouse” has been on the property for six years.

Given the building and area are connected to their home, Lawson argued they expect a level of privacy — even if they don’t own it.

In his response filed Tuesday, Becker said the defense is trying to lead the court “down a dimly lit path,” with court rulings scraped together over privacy and the land, owned by another party, to be considered a flimsy right to privacy.

Becker has argued the Curtsinger’s defense “flies in the face of all objective reasonableness,” and the defense’s request to challenge the search warrant and the detectives ability to corroborate the anonymous tip is “his (Curtsinger) intent to embark on a blind fishing expedition, seeking unknown evidence.”

Lawson concluded the Curtsingers have a right to the suppression of evidence as it was seized on property “intricately tied,” to their home.

Becker concluded “it may be a bitter pill to swallow,” but the Curtsingers aren’t “excepted,” from the application of the Commonwealth’s laws.

While Wingate will  not make any ruling tomorrow, hearing both sides debate the argument —and if any additional testimony or details come up during motion hour — will be nothing short of something worth sipping on.



My first real threat on the bourbon trail


My first real threat on the bourbon trail

After eight months of writing about this, I have received my first real threat.

The threat didn’t come from the alleged bullying ringleader.

It came from someone who identified herself as one of the wives of the several law enforcement officers involved in the illegal activities of this investigation.

As many clean up the beer, champagne and bourbon bottles from last night’s New Years Eve celebrations, know this story is nowhere near the last drop.

A board found behind the shed with the first five alleged barrels of stolen bourbon.
A board found behind the shed with the first five alleged barrels of stolen bourbon.

No, I didn’t press charges. The threat came from a call to my office line.

And while I can’t prove it was her, we don’t have caller id on our office phones, the very dialogue, the anger, her distaste for me, convinced me she was who she said she was.

I asked her to tell her side, or his side, of the story and the chain of events which revealed a feud between police departments, a police chief posting a rant on the department’s Facebook page, the allegation of a stolen bottle of Pappy Van Winkle used for a law enforcement fundraiser, how steroids were purchased online by both city and state law enforcement officers with the alleged ringleader and several codefendants. But she refused.

A few journalists, good journalists, write not as parasites with a taste for blood, but write with blood — their own blood, their own sweat, long hours off the clock to get to the truth.

I’m not out for anyone’s job, livelihood, to embarrass their children or ruin anyone’s reputation. I am here to tell the story.

I am here to tell the true story.

And while I can’t get her or her husband to go on record, I hope they change their minds before I’m done writing this story.

On The Bourbon Trail : so what now?

The investigation has laid down a foundation of charges ranging from organized crime, property theft to purchasing illegal substances via the Internet.

But big questions still remain on the bourbon trail.

In Kentucky, distilleries get taxed by the amount of whisky they have sitting in their rickhouses aging before the state also taxes it at the point of retail sale.

So how did these distilleries not realize, until this investigation, that they were missing so much bourbon from their inventory?

According to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association 2014’s tax-assessed value of all barrels aging in Kentucky  totaled $1.9 billion. From 2013 to 2014, that’s an increase of $81 million.

How much tax money is the state missing ?

Also as of 2014, the tax value has doubled since 2006 with a difference of $1 billion.

The distillers’ association reported that Kentucky distilleries in 2013 paid $15.2 million in barrel taxes, which includes an ad valorem tax on each barrel as it ages every year, which is 52 percent more than they did in 2006.

How firm is the number of barrels the distilleries report and how verified is it by the taxing enforcement agency if no one knew barrels were missing?

Several million dollars of potentially lost tax money should raise several questions beyond accounting practices.

I will lay out more questions and hopefully have more answers when I post here again.

Don’t go anywhere. This story is nowhere near its last drop.




Rumors come easy


In any investigation, rumors come easy.

And in the case of this bourbon heist and steroid ring, there’s more than a rickhouse worth.

I’ve heard plenty of rumors, but no one will go on the record about former Frankfort police and D.A.R.E. officer Mike Wells.

I’ve been told by many sources he was hung out to dry, but no one will go on the record.

Many sources have said, Wells took the fall when he wasn’t the only one allegedly using steroids. But the big facts will come later most likely when and if the pending trial is over.

And whether that is true or not, Wells had to resign before he was fired for his self-confessed steroid use to Franklin County sheriff detectives.

Wells now works for the Eminence Police Department in neighboring Henry County.Screen shot 2015-11-09 at 6.19.25 PM Screen shot 2015-11-09 at 6.19.33 PM


I’m still waiting to find out from the Kentucky State Police what disciplinary action will come to Vehicle Enforcement Officer Steve Oliver who admitted to using and purchasing steroids with Wells.

One things so far is certain, Oliver didn’t have to resign.

Other developments

Judge Thomas Wingate denied the request to reveal the anonymous tipster and will do an “in camera” review of any texts or communications between law enforcement and the anonymous tipster who had explicit information not just of the barrels, but the layout of Curtsinger’s residence.

Many question how did Curtsinger or Searcy allegedly just lift these barrels of bourbon out of the distillery for so long?

How did they bypass security so easily for several years and it took an anonymous tip of someone they both obviously knew to blow this whole thing up?

I’ve heard there’s a part of the distillery worker culture with a heavy dose of entitlement. That workers regularly steal bourbon for their own use.

Wells said in his interviews with Franklin County sheriff detectives that while working on a fence near Wild Turkey he regularly saw workers filling jugs for their own personal use.

If you work at a distillery, is this the case?

Contact me, tell me your side anonymously or off the record.

In my work, rumors come easy.


A response and a reschedule


The latest update on the Pappygate court proceedings included here is a response and a reschedule.

The motion by defense in the Pappygate bourbon heist case for the court to reveal information that would ultimately ID the anonymous tipster has been rescheduled and will be heard in two weeks.

Anyone interested in the Franklin Circuit judge’s ruling on whether to reveal information that would ultimately lead the ID of the anonymous tipster who blew the lid on the whole #Pappygate investigation to Franklin County Sheriff’s detectives will have to wait.

I may have an update next week in regards to KSP. Be sure to check here or at the SJ’s website

Below are some pics of the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Zach Becker’s response with supported rulings. I apologize if they are out of order

Response 1



Response 2

Response 4


Response 6

Response 7


Response 9

Response 10




Pappygate defense calls for tipster’s information


Pappygate defense calls for tipster’s information

In case you didn’t see my article posted in The State Journal, the  alleged ringleader’s defense calls for the anonymous tipster to be identified.

Yes, you read that right. The big “anonymous tip”

Attorney Whitney Lawson’s motion to compel discovery argues that when the Franklin Commonwealth’s Office gave him the anonymous tip that brought this whole thing down (mentioned here) — it wasn’t everything he asked for.

Moreover, Lawson’s motion has a grocery list of information. Some of it could be seen as reasonable defense approach to the soundness and validity of the text-a-tip operation.

Some of those items are :

• the phone numbers used to receive anonymous tips

• where is the phone maintained

• the individuals responsible for maintaining and responding to the tips

• all persons who have access to said phones

The contentious requests include:

• the phone number(s) used to send the anonymous phone call (s) or text message(s)

• the name and address of any and all individual (s) who made anonymous calls or texts


• the phone record(s) of any and all phone(s) used to make or send anonymous phone call(s) and text message(s)

In my article at The SJ you will read where Lawson argues that Curtsinger should have the caller’s or caller’s information as Sheriff Pat Melton doesn’t use a third party to scrub the anonymous numbers.

But in case you don’t know, you are not anonymous even when you call 911 and request to make an anonymous report. Just an FYI. 

The anonymous text was renamed Screen shot 2015-09-23 at 7.58.07 PM

Here’s a pic of original text in the court records, the text that led to uncovering this whole Pappygate blow up .

FullSizeRender (2)

Another request Lawson has made is any recorded/written statements from Tony “Onion” Bryant.

Lawson’s motion argues that there are no statements from Bryant only police statements.

It took me ALL DAY to find it my huge pile of court docs , but Bryant only has one small chunk, paragraph in them.

Here it is in its entirety.

Wyatt interviewed Todd “Onion” Bryant at his home in Lexington. Bryant stated he knew Curtsinger from softball. Curtsinger had often given him whiskey in plastic jugs. He stated he had often bought steroids with Curtsinger and Wells (former Frankfort police officer) going in on bulk orders. Bryant stated he had heard rumors that Searcy and Curtsinger were involved in selling barrels of whiskey. 

Is Lawson just doing her due diligence in flushing out anything on Bryant? Why is she sniffing it out? Does she think they haven’t given up the goods on Bryant or is he just the only left out of those 20-something recorded interviews and written statements?

The Franklin Commonwealth’s Attorney Office filed its response today to Lawson’s motion.

The Commonwealth’s response is both similar to what we could assume the public’s response would be to revealing an anonymous source out of concern for their safety and any future protection they provide to an anonymous source.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Zach Becker’s response argues, overall that it would be “detrimental to additional criminal investigations by the sheriff’s office” notwithstanding the response argues that it would be a violation of Kentucky Rule of Evidence.”

The response argues two larger points (all quotes are from the response document)

• If the court ruled in favor of disclosing the anonymous tipster’s information, it would “not be applied solely to the facts of this case, but will necessarily impact all other criminal cases and investigations arising from its jurisdiction”

•If the court follows “ the logic of the defendant… the law-abiding citizens of Franklin County,” would be “left with two equally unpalatable choices, either to do their civic duty as law-abiding citizens and thereby place themselves and their families directly in harm’s way or simply learn to ignore and embrace criminal activity in their community.”

Here’s the link to my story today in The State Journal.


Steroids, silencers and Kentucky State Police


Since April, I’ve been waiting to write definitively about where things stand in regards to steroids, silencers and Kentucky State Police.

Yes, you read that right.

There’s a few loose ends “On The Bourbon Trail”

Former Frankfort Police officer Mike Wells admitted to steroid use at the same time that Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Officer Steve Oliver admitted to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office detectives that he had “gone in on orders of steroids with Mike Wells” and alleged ringleader Toby Curtsinger  “on several occasions.”

The only difference is to my knowledge since May is that Oliver hasn’t resigned.

Since May, the only response I’ve gotten from KSP is that an internal investigation would be conducted on Oliver and his alleged steroid use.

If Oliver admitted use to detectives and it is in public record is it still alleged at this point?

I’m waiting to get a definitive answer about the internal investigation or at least whether Oliver is still employed. I should have some answer Monday.

In 2014, KSP named Oliver one of the Officers of the Year along with five other vehicle enforcement officers. 

Within those same documents, I am awaiting a response, even if it is a “no comment,” response from KSP Commissioner Brewer in regards to another officer.

In the same set of documents, not reported anywhere else I’ve read, is a statement regarding former Lt. Jerry Wise who is now Capt. Wise at KSP Post 5 in Campbellsburg.

During questioning, sheriff detectives asked Oliver “why Jerry Wise might be on Toby’s (Curtsinger’s) phone.

According to interview documents, sheriff detectives received a phone call from Capt. Jerry Wise, of KSP, in regards to the conversation they had with Oliver.

Wise “was angry that he had been mentioned in this investigation,” according to detectives “Wise stated he had never used steroids in his life,” and Wise “stated that he knew Toby from working out at the gym in Frankfort years ago,” like every other law enforcement officer mentioned in this case. 

Wise said he had signed off on paperwork for Curtsinger to “obtain silencers and that was the only time he had spoken to Toby on the phone.”

KSP is working kindly with me to answer my question regarding Wise.

He was no. #2 before his latest promotion under Commissioner Brewer. I want to know if Brewer gave him the authority to sign off such paper work.

I’ve looked at the statutes regarding ATF silencer applications.

It’s as clear as any other legalese. It could be open to interpretation for any well versed attorney.

From the ATF I received an outlined PDF. You be the judge.

Screen shot 2015-09-09 at 4.32.50 PM does this say #2 under the commissioner?

Additional questions I have that KSP can’t answer?

•If Wise hadn’t spoken to Toby in years why was his number STILL in Curtsinger’s phone when he was arrested?

•He only KNEW Curtsinger from the gym, but felt he knew him well enough to sign off on his silencer application. Does that concern anyone?

•Why did Curtsinger go through Capt. Wise and not anyone else?

•It’s been established that Curtsinger and Frankfort Police Chief Jeff Abrams knew each other well enough for their kids to be friends and Abrams’ wife worked out at Julie Curtsinger’s bootcamp so why go to Wise and not Abrams?

I want to give everyone a fair shake.

There’s enough conspiracy theories in these bourbon barrels to make quite a toxic cocktail.

I want to make sure I’m fair, accurate — and I enjoy bourbon not poison.

Let’s see what shakes out.



New plead and new leads


New plead and new leads

The past two weeks have blown the #Pappygate, bourbon-theft, steroid ring investigation up with a new plead and new leads.

Want to read this blog from the first entry? Click here

Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015

Dusty Adkins’ affidavit includes the alleged sale of bourbon to former Georgetown Police chief Greg Reeves who left office in Feb. 2012 and said Adkins sold him bourbon in the spring of 2012.

And then there’s these financial documents. Something we haven’t seen yet in the case

original (2)original (3)


Two checks Adkins wrote and allegedly gave to Curtsinger as he thought he was selling discounted, mis-proofed bourbon to friends and acquaintances.

Notably, the memo line has what appears to be different handwriting which equates to over $3,000 for softball hitting lessons. Say what? Can you see the almost juvenile handwriting with the big circle dots on the “i”s?

An official at Georgetown College told me Adkins volunteered as an assistance softball coach for a while. So, why would he need lessons from Curtsinger?

Whose signature is in the memo line?

Lex 18 gives me almost a second of credit

Full story at The State Journal here 

Last week

Dusty Adkins, one of the original indicted nine suspects, plead guilty to a lesser and will testify as a witness against the remaining witnesses, which include alleged ringleader Toby Curtsinger.

Three big things came out of last week:

1)Adkins plead

2)An  investigation document that puts wife Julie Curtsinger allegedly near the scene of steroid buy with her husband. She sat in a restaurant while he allegedly sold steroids to someone.

3)Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Master Distiller who remembers signing bottles of bourbon for Frankfort Police Maj. Rob Richardson, which doesn’t include the bottle of Pappy Van Winkle resigned officer Mike Wells said he kept instead of donating to a tactical officer association fundraiser.

Full story on these developments here


Tracing the bourbon trail


Moving stolen bourbon never looked so easy.

In tracing the bourbon trail, statements revealed transactions and deliveries from Casey County into Cincinnati.

But as I write this in July based off of investigation documents from April and May, there’s speculation the bourbon barrels, or bourbon bottled from those barrels, made its way into other states. At least for the varying ages of stolen Pappy Van Winkle, they made it as far as Texas.

These jars and the jug behind represent bourbon a wife processed after buying it as a Christmas present for her husband. Some were later given as Christmas presents. She told investigators she thought the sale from one of the crime ring members was legitimate. Photo by Brad Bowman.
These jars and the jug behind represent bourbon a wife processed after buying it as a Christmas present for her husband. Some were later given as Christmas presents to family members. She told investigators she thought the sale was legitimate. Photo by Brad Bowman.


The Who and Where

Between Searcy and Curtsinger, they made moving the bulky barrels of stolen bourbon look  easy.

Even though these were stainless steel barrels or the bulky wooden ones we all imagine in our minds, they moved them with the ease of an object one could hide in their pocket.

Each metal hoop on a 53-gallon bourbon barrel holds the  individual oak staves in place.

Curtsinger and Searcy “allegedly” acted as those metal hoops holding the individual actors or “staves” within the crime ring in place. But after the other suspects were indicted, the ring easily broke.

Two indictees Ronnie Hubbard and Shaun Ballard entered guilty pleas in May.

To keep this short and save the details for the book, Ballard, 30, of Richmond told authorities he acted as a middleman.

Over a five-year period, he sold approximately 20 cases (at 12 per case) of Pappy Van Winkle and 20 cases (6 per case) of Eagle Rare. While Ballard has stated he received only $100 in compensation, according to the documents Curtsinger allegedly received $20,000.

He procured the sale of two barrels that ultimately went to Laurel County and the barrel for the wife as a Christmas present in 2014 for her husband.

Hubbard, 37, of Georgetown, told the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office he entered  an agreement with Curtsinger to obtain barrels of bourbon  over two years and he allegedly obtained 17 barrels of bourbon from Curtsinger.

Hubbard sold bourbon to someone he “met” on a job site in northern Kentucky and sold barrels in Scott County, Stamping Ground, Georgetown and two barrels to undisclosed men from Cincinnati.

My article for The State Journal about their guilty pleas can be found here.



Two barns for one bourbon trail


To read On the Bourbon Trail chronologically, click here , scroll down to the first June entry or  go to June on the archive calendar. 


Once the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office gave a press conference attended by all the bigger media outlets which included the WSJ, The New York Times, regional TV and then me, the local news hack, tips and more stolen barrels started rolling in.

After sheriff detectives interviewed former police officer Mike Wells and following his resignation, some of the other alleged accomplices, outside of those indicted, in the “crime ring” started speaking.

The big pins in the group had been struck, and even though the bourbon had been confiscated, witness testimony started pouring out freely.

Sean Searcy and Toby Curtsinger used two barns for one bourbon trail — their alleged means for storage, distribution and sale of an estimated $80k – $100,000 of stolen bourbon.

Searcy had a truck distribution route for Wild Turkey. He made barrel deliveries from the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg to Camp Nelson in Nicholasville.

Conveniently, a barn owned by his father was along his route near the distillery.

Searcy would allegedly load a few extra barrels,stop at his father’s home in Lawrenceburg and  roll those barrels out of the truck on an aluminum ladder into the barn.

Investigators extracted text messages from his phone describing “arrangements for the transfer of the barrels and the price negotiations.”

Those messages revealed at least 16 barrels Searcy allegedly stole from Oct. 20 to Dec. 20, 2014. He would “then make arrangements for Toby (Curtsinger) to retrieve them and sell them.”


Curtsinger borrowed someone else’s barn for storage of the Buffalo Trace barrels. The coveted Pappy Van Winkle though, he allegedly stored on his own property.

Promising the owner of the barn on South Scruggs Lane near Elkhorn Creek money and possibly some bourbon, Curtsinger may have stored at least 11 barrels from Buffalo Trace there. But according to an accomplice, he could have stored a lot more.

True or not, many testimonials repeat a common thread: Curtsinger would promise them money or bourbon for their assistance, but never followed through.

One accomplice confessed to investigators he helped Curtsinger steal 11 barrels from Buffalo Trace and loaded them onto his truck.

After I wrote an article which included this incident, the accomplice (who I will write about later to include his side of the story) contacted me at my office confirming to me that it did happen and that he didn’t have a choice. But that story will come later.

Just a taste of estimated $

Curtsinger told the accomplice to hide in the backseat of his truck on two separate occasions.

Curtsinger allegedly bribed a security guard to let him through the gate saying he was only taking empty stainless steel barrels and scrapping them for cash.

Using a forklift in the middle of the night, they loaded  11 barrels on to his truck. Curtsinger paid his passenger $4,500-$5,000 in cash for the help.

The security guard only received $800 for letting him through.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Zach Becker said later Franklin County Sheriff’s detectives recovered one of these barrels in full and the

“contents of it were determined to be a 17-year-old Eagle Rare commemorative edition bourbon that was worth $500 per gallon at 23 gallons. So approximately just less than $12,000 alone.”

Later on the trail…

How far did the distribution of the coveted Pappy Van Winkle elixir and other stolen bourbon reach…

Oh and later Frankfort Mayor William May’s request…



A Journalist’s investigation into the largest bourbon heist in Kentucky’s History © Brad Bowman