John Saunders is accused of drinking 52 bottles of whiskey valued at $102,000. Photo provided by WTAE (WTAE)
Saturday, July 20, 2013
The owner of an historic inn in Pittsburgh has brought charges against a former tenant she says was supposed safeguard 50 bottles of vintage whiskey valued at more than $100,000 but drank it all instead.
The owner of the South Broadway Manor Bed and Breakfast, Patricia Hill, found 104 bottles of Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey when she bought the historic mansion and converted it into a bed and breakfast. It had originally belonged to Pittsburgh businessman J.P. Brennan.
The whiskey had been distilled in 1912 and given to Brennan in 1918, she told ABC News affiliate WTAE.
"There were four cases, 52 bottles, manufactured by an old distillery here in the Township that went out of business many years ago," Barry Pritts, chief of police in Scottdale, Pa., said today.
He said the bottles had been made and sold before Prohibition and then passed down.
TheOld Farm Pure Rye Whiskey was part of a collection of historical whiskey believed to have been consumed by Henry Frick and Andrew Carnegie in the early 1900s in Pittsburgh, Rick Bruckner, the chef at the South Broadway Manor, told WTAE.
"The family that owned the estate, somebody hid it under a flight of stairs and enclosed the staircase, and the estate went through several families. The lady that owns it now was doing a remodeling project and the people who were doing the work found them," Pritts said.
Hill did not immediately return calls for comment. Pritts said that Hill put the whiskey bottles in the basement while the main floors were being renovated. John Saunders, 62, was a caretaker who lived in the basement and was expected to safeguard the booze.
"You know, to watch over them and keep them secure. I guess that was a mistake," Pritts said.
Hill discovered that 52 of the bottles had been emptied in March 2012, and reported it to police. All four cases of whiskey had been emptied within about a year, Pitts said.
Saunders denied that he consumed the vintage alcohol, but police tested the empty bottles to see if they matched Saunders' DNA. After seven months of testing, police confirmed that Saunders' DNA was found on the bottles, and charged him with felony theft and receiving stolen property, Pritts said.
Saunders appeared for a preliminary hearing in court on Wednesday and will face trial.
His attorney, Patrice DiPietro, did not immediately return calls for comment from ABC News.
"The DNA doesn't lie. I'm just disappointed a family friend of over 40 years has lied," Hill said, according to WTAE. "It's a shame it took historic whiskey to realize and come to this point, but if it saved his life, maybe that's the best of it all."
A whiskey appraiser told WTAE the value of the missing whiskey is around $102,400. Pritts requested restitution in the amount of the full retail value.
Attorneys agreed Wednesday that further expert testimony and evidence will have to be heard to determine the exact retail value of the whiskey.
During the hearing Wednesday, Saunders' attorney noted to the court that Saunders is now awaiting a liver transplant, Pritts added.