Man Faces Jail Time for Drinking $100,000 of Historic Hooch

Posted July 29, 2013 in Crime by

Glass of whiskey with nearly empty bottle


Talk about a hangover. A Pennsylvania man is facing felony theft charges for drinking over $100,000 worth of antique liquor. John Saunders, 62, will go to trial for drinking away a historic cache of Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey.

Nine cases of the spirits were discovered in an old mansion near Pittsburgh when a woman purchased and renovated it to use as a bed and breakfast. When workers tore out some old stairs, they discovered the trove. The liquor was distilled in 1913 and bottled in 1917 by a company owned by Henry Clay Frick, according to a local news source.

“The story with this isn’t just, ‘Hey, we have some really old whiskey.’ It’s, ‘Hey, we have some really old, historical whiskey,'” the innkeeper told a television station.

The cases were then stored in a basement apartment of the inn where Saunders lived. He allegedly drank 52 bottles, or about half the stash, over an unknown period of time. Needless to say, owner Pat Hill was not amused to discover the missing whiskey and brought charges against her former tenant, saying that she “is just sick about it.”

He could face up to seven years in prison and $15,000 in fines, although the actual sentence if he’s convicted would probably be far less severe.


Finders Keepers

Attorney Jason S. Dunkle headshot

Jason S. Dunkle

This isn’t your garden-variety alcohol related crime. “That is just crazy,” says Jason S. Dunkle, a criminal defense attorney with JD Law in State College Pennsylvania. “If I have something that’s worth that kind of money, it’s locked up.”

If Saunders is convicted, he could be ordered to pay restitution to Hill, although it’s unclear if he would ever be able to come up with the cash. Instead, he might have to sleep off his binge behind bars for awhile.

In his defense Saunders has asserted that the whiskey in question simply evaporated. However, saliva found on three on the empty bottles proved to be a match for his DNA, to which he responded that it must have gotten on them while he was cleaning them.

Saunders could try to tell his landlord he didn’t realize the liquor was so valuable, but that won’t help his legal case. “There’s no defense to say I just thought it was merely gutshot bullshit whiskey,” says Dunkle. “If they can prove what the value is, that’s all that matters.”

He also would have a difficult time trying to argue that he somehow didn’t know the whiskey belonged to Hill. “The old school phrase ‘finders keepers losers weepers,’ that’s not what the law is,” the attorney says. “If you find something and don’t return it, you get charged.”

The moral of the story is Saunders would have been a lot better off picking up some Jim Beam at the store than dipping into the 100-year old stash. “Go buy your own booze,” Dunkle says. “You know what it’s worth and you paid for it so you can’t get charged for theft.”

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