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Men plead guilty in Bourbon crime ring case

Two men have pleaded guilty to their involvement in a criminal syndicate allegedly involved in high profile thefts of Wild Turkey and Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon.

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Two “middlemen” have entered guilty pleas over their involvement in a Bourbon crime ring

Last month, nine people were charged with their involvement in the theft of up to US$100,000 worth of Bourbon in Kentucky.

A grand jury in Frankfort accused the group of lifting supplies over the past seven years, relying on help from workers at the two Kentucky-based distilleries.

Michael Shaun Ballard, 31, and Ronnie Lee Hubbard, 37, pleaded guilty to amended charges on Wednesday in exchange for co-operating with authorities in the prosecution of other defendants in the case, Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

Both men pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy to receive stolen property over US$10,000 and face 12 months in jail. They were initially charged with engaging in organised crime, which could result in a 20-year prison term.

Authorities believe the Ballard and Hubbard were the “middlemen” of the crime ring, tasked by the alleged “ring leader” Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger to distribute the stolen barrels and bottles of Bourbon.

Police discovered pilfered barrels of Wild Turkey Bourbon worth US$30,000 in the backyard of Curtsinger – a Buffalo Trace employee.

Authorities linked the discovery of the Wild Turkey barrels to the theft of US$26,000 worth of rare Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon – which has long been thought the result of an inside job.

Mark Searcy, who worked at the Wild Turkey Distillery, has also been named among the list of accused in the case.

Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Ballard helped sell 20 cases of Pappy Van Winkle and 20 cases of Eagle Rare Bourbon to Mike Marriott in Richmond, for which Curtsinger allegedly received US$20,000.

A number of other transactions between Ballard and Curtsinger were identified in the plea agreement.

Last month veteran Kentucky police officer Michael Wells resigned after it was revealed he had exchanged phone calls with Curtsinger.

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