Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley stands behind the still.
UNICOI — Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said officials made an unexpected discovery Friday evening while attempting to serve an arrest warrant, and as a result, a Unicoi woman faces charges related to the illegal manufacture of alcohol after a moonshine operation was found at her home.
Hensley said officials went to a residence at 260 Scioto Woods Court at about 10 to serve an arrest warrant on Jennifer W. Hampton, 43, for a violation of probation charge from Unicoi County Criminal Court.
Officials attempted to make contact with someone at Hampton’s mobile home, but no one came to the door, Hensley said. The sheriff said officers noticed an outbuilding within a few feet of the home’s back porch. Hensley said officers heard a sound coming from the building and saw a light on inside. Officers looked through a hole in the outbuilding, Hensley said.
“When we looked in the hole, in plain view was a moonshine still,” he said.
Hensley said investigators secured a search warrant for the outbuilding and cut the lock off the building. He said officials also heard movement inside Hampton’s residence, so officers forced their way inside. They found Hampton and another individual, whom Hensley identified as Hampton’s husband.
Sheriff’s department officials searched the residence and found several containers of sour mash, six to seven gallon containers containing moonshine liquor and several quart jars containing moonshine of various flavors. Hensley said the still seen in the outbuilding was approximately five gallons.
Officials cleared the scene about 6 a.m. Saturday, Hensley said. Moonshine from one of the quart jars was tested, and Hensley said the liquor was 90 proof. In all, Hensley said officials found 8 to 9 gallons of finished moonshine product and eight to 10 5-gallon containers of sour mash that was “ready to run.”
“There’s no doubt that this moonshine operation, according to the evidence we found, has been in operation for a while,” Hensley said. “It’s not the largest still that we’ve ever gotten here in Unicoi County, but it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten one. This is the first one that we’ve gotten in several, several years.
“It’s not the worst thing out there, but it is against the law, and we absolutely had to take action on it.”
Hensley said officials also found 16 guns of various calibers and “thousands of rounds” of ammunition inside the home. The sheriff said these guns were seized, adding that Hampton is a convicted felon.
While at the scene, an officer found a dead dog beside the outbuilding, Hensley said. He said the dog appeared to have been dead for several days.
“We believe there’s a good possibility that it froze to death,” Hensley said.
Aside from the violation of probation, Hampton was charged with manufacture of an alcoholic beverage, possession of a still and animal cruelty. Hensley said Hampton will likely appear in Criminal Court later this month on the violation of probation, and will be arraigned Monday in Sessions Court on the animal cruelty, manufacture and possession charges, the latter two of which are misdemeanors.
Hampton’s husband, whom Hensley did not name, will also be charged, the sheriff said. Hensley said officials will secure a warrant for the man’s arrest in the next couple of days.
Hensley said it is too early in the investigation to speculate on whether the liquor was being distributed locally. He also said it is not yet been determined if Hampton or her husband was responsible for its manufacture, but Hampton was aware the liquor was being produced. She was arrested at the scene.
“She had knowledge of it, there’s no question,” Hensley said. “This finished product, as well as the product in the making process, was inside the residence and you could not have known it wasn’t there. I mean, the smell alone, there’s no doubt that she was very aware of what was going on.”
Hensley also warned against others who may be interested in manufacturing moonshine, even if it is not for distribution.
“A lot of folks think that you can make so much for personal use. It is against the law to possess a still. It is against the law to manufacture moonshine liquor,” he said.