Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Moonshine bust shows industry still big in places

A big moonshine bust in southern Virginia's Piedmont has focused more attention on the industry that came with the first wave of Scots-Irish settlers and seems to be permanently imprinted in the culture of many counties in Appalachian Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.

The latest bust "wasn't little Snuffy Smith with a little old still coming out of the woods, and I'm making four gallons of liquor and me and mama are sharing it on the porch," federal agent Bart McEntire told Jerry Markon of The Washington Post. "This was putting out over 1,000 gallons of a week. That's a significant amount of liquor." The bust was in Halifax County, but the main defendant lives in Franklin County, two counties to the west.

Markon writes, "People have always enjoyed their liquor in rural Franklin County, which calls itself the 'moonshine capital of the world,' a slogan seen on billboards and T-shirts and even at a moonshine exhibit on the campus of a local Methodist college." That would be the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College. (Post map by Laris Karklis)

After a crackdown about 10 years ago, authorities say "Moonshining is starting to make a comeback as moonshiners, who have been known to hide their stills behind fake headstones in cemeteries and camouflage them with green paint in the woods, adapt to the scrutiny," Markon reports. "Because moonshine is so ingrained in the culture and history of the region, the industry is clannish. Agents rarely find cooperators. Maybe once a year, they'll get a call with the precise location of a still." (Read more)

UPDATE, Sept. 6: Four men pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the operation, Laurence Hammack of The Roanoke Times reports: "The defendants accepted plea agreements and will be sentenced later. As part of his standard questions, Judge James Turk asked each man to explain in his own words what he did to make him guilty." (Read more)

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