Valdosta Daily Times

September 5, 2013

Moonshine maker brags about his product — to undercover agents

Scripps Howard News Service

Martin County, Fla. — Thomas Lilly said the moonshine he made was "the best anyone had tasted.”

Problem is, the folks to whom the West Palm Beach man bragged were investigators.

And, he’d just sold them a still for $320.

Lilly, 47, was arrested Aug. 23 and charged with possession of a moonshine still and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony.

It’s the first moonshine bust Martin County, Fla., Sheriff William Snyder is aware of in recent decades in the county.

"It’s a pretty rare phenomenon,” he said.

In the past 11 years, officials with Florida’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco recorded just 16 arrests statewide in illicit distillery cases, including this one, said Beth Frady, deputy communications director with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

But moonshine long has been part of rural southern culture, with drivers involved in moonshine running playing a role in the origins of NASCAR racing.

It’s also occupied a place in popular culture.

It was part of the back story in "The Dukes of Hazzard” television series, and it’s front and center in "Moonshiners” on the Discovery Channel.

State agents learned of Lilly through a Craigslist ad, Frady said.

At about 9:40 a.m. Aug. 23, Lilly met with a special agent with the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco and a Martin County sheriff’s detective on Southwest Lost River Road.

Lilly exchanged the still for $320 and supplied "detailed instructions” on how to make moonshine.

"He also stated that the moonshine he had manufactured was the best anyone had tasted,” the affidavit states.

Further, Lilly supplied documents on how to make moonshine.

Since 2002, state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco officials have recorded 55 illicit distillery cases in cities across the state.

Snyder, the sheriff, said moonshine can be especially harmful.

"There’s ingredients in there from the equipment, and from the way they make it that can have very dangerous levels of mercury, and that in the wrong quantities, it can produce a lethal mixture,” he said.

Snyder said during the Prohibition era, people consistently made bad brews and deaths occurred.

"It’s not a harmless little pastime that you do at home,” he said.

An estimated street value of moonshine ranges from $100 to $150 a gallon, state regulation agency spokeswoman Frady said.

After Lilly was arrested, investigators found he had a .32-caliber handgun and a .336-caliber rifle.

Snyder said the equipment Lilly provided, which was constructed of metal and tubing, appeared to be of medium size and fit in the back of a pickup. Lilly was taken to the Martin County Jail, and was released the next day on $40,000 bond, a jail official said.

(Will Greenlee writes for Scripps Treasure Coast (Fla.) Newspapers, The Stuart News, Fort Pierce Tribune and Vero Beach Press Journal. E-mail him at Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,


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