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The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said its agents discovered two 800-gallon stills and 182 gallons of white lightning.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
A Franklin County man was arrested this week on charges of manufacturing moonshine, according to the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The arrest Monday of Ricky Nelson Matherly, 54, of Penhook was the result of a nine-month investigation by the department’s Bureau of Law Enforcement into an illegal still operation in a heavily wooded area of eastern Franklin County, according to a news release from the agency.
After spending months performing an undercover surveillance operation near the stills, agents discovered and destroyed two 800-gallon operational black-pot stills, according to the news release. The investigation, which was sparked by a July 2012 tip, resulted in the seizure of 1,600 gallons of mash, 182 gallons of untaxed liquor and various liquor-making supplies.
Matherly is charged with a felony count of illegal manufacturing and bottling of alcohol and a misdemeanor charge of possession of untaxed alcoholic beverages. He was arraigned Wednesday morning in Franklin County, according to court records.
Virginia ABC spokeswoman Valerie Hubbard said Matherly was arrested without incident and cooperated with the agents. Hubbard said there was no evidence Matherly had been selling moonshine.
The news release said agents also searched Matherly’s home, where they discovered a small amount of marijuana and a firearm.
Matherly was convicted of knowingly possessing a distillery in a federal case in 2005. He was sentenced to a year in prison on that charge in a case that also included marijuana and firearm charges.
The arrest is the most recent case to bring up the area’s history with the moonshine trade.
Franklin County’s reputation as the “moonshine capital of the world” dates back to the early decades of the 20th century. The county became especially notorious during the 1920s and 1930s, when crooked lawmen sold protection to producers large and small.
Many small farmers scratching out a living in the mountains made, transported and sold illegal liquor as a way to keep food on the table.
“Franklin County was always about volume because it was a business and it was made to sell,” said Roddy Moore, director of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum at Ferrum College.
But the federal Operation Lightning Strike in 1999 led to numerous convictions and helped put an end to major moonshining production in Franklin County, Commonwealth’s Attorney Tim Allen said last year after the bust of a small operation in Wirtz.
Morris Stephenson is a longtime journalist in Franklin County and author of “A Night of Makin’ Likker — Plus Other Stories from the Moonshine Capital of the World.”
Stephenson said Tuesday that the bust in Penhook described by the ABC sounded like one of the bigger operations shut down in recent years, “even though it would be a drop in the bucket compared to what used to come out of here.”
Stephenson said homemade hooch has become harder to find in the county.
“Most people I talk to now don’t know where any is being made,” Stephenson said. “I don’t know who to call to get any. I don’t know who to see.”
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