Among the three stories recounted in Netflix’s docuseries Heist is that of Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, a Kentucky dad who pulled off one of the biggest bourbon burglaries in history. He’d been working at Buffalo Trace distillery for more than two decades when he began smuggling out and reselling bottles of rare and highly coveted bourbon like Pappy Van Winkle, which costs between $1,000 to $4,000 per bottle. After an estimated $100,000 of spirits went missing, the case — dubbed “Pappygate” — made international headlines in 2013. A police investigation was launched, and eventually, a tip led them to Curtsinger. He pleaded guilty to theft charges in September 2017 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but ultimately only served 30 days.
“I can laugh about it now, but about three years ago it’d just make me cry,” Curtsinger recently told The State Journal, adding that he hopes Heist viewers take away “a lot of the human stuff from the story” rather than focusing on his crimes. “People wanted alcohol and you give it to them. How’s that bad? I’m told that now they’re allowing employees to purchase bottles before they go out. Somebody told me, ‘They’re out buying bottles and re-selling them for what they convicted you for.’”
Though nine other people were indicted in connection to the scheme, only Curtsinger served time in prison, which prosecutors said was “appropriate” due to his ringleader role. Curtsinger has claimed he was never a ringleader and that taking bottles of bourbon was simply part of the “culture” at Buffalo Trace. "Everybody — basically, at one time — has took a bottle home, has drank something on the job," he recently told WDRB News. "It's just kinda hard to explain unless you work there ... everybody done it."
He also said he believes people lied during the investigation. "That what was said in the grand jury transcripts — 'The Curtsinger residence was a hike for bulk orders of steroids, large quantities of Pappy Van Winkle storage, barrel storage' — that is a bold-faced lie,” he claimed to WDRB.
In June 2018, Curtsinger was granted shock parole after just 30 days in prison because he was a non-violent, first-time offender. Prosecutor Zachary Becker raised no objections to the early prison release, noting that he believed Curtsinger had been “appropriately shocked by this experience, so as not to reoffend,” according to the Associated Press. Becker also confirmed that Curtsinger had already paid about $2,000 in restitution as part of his plea agreement.
After the hearing, Curtsinger’s attorney, Whitney True Lawson, told reporters that her client had “suffered greatly because of his actions,” noting that his prior criminal history included only a couple of minor traffic offenses. “This has been a lot of strife, a lot of struggle, a lot of hardship ... and he’s got a lot of repairing that he’s got to do,” Lawson said, per the AP. “I think he’s eager to say that this chapter of his life is over and to see what the next chapter holds for him.”
Lawson now works painting houses near Frankfort, Kentucky. His wife Julie — who was also indicted as part of the alleged organized crime ring — explained on the show that she removed her wedding ring years ago, but hasn’t given up on their marriage. Heist co-director Derek Doneen recently told Archiweekend.com that Curtsinger is “very active” in his kids’ lives, too. His parole supervision is set to end in 2023.
“I feel like we have more healing to do,” Julie concludes in Heist. “I feel like that we’re going to be better in years to come. I think we’re gonna be OK.”