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Angelina Co. authorities bust 150-gallon moonshine operation

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LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) -

Following a tip from the Diboll Police Department, Angelina County law enforcement officials confiscated 150 gallons of distilled liquor Tuesday morning from a Lufkin home.

The house is located on the 1000 block of Woodland Drive and owned by Bruce Lee Love, 44, the owner and president of DP Solutions.

But, Love told KTRE news, that this so-called "moonshine bust," is not anything like it seems. Love says he has actually been working with several officials on getting a federal permit so he can open and operate Love Distilleries Inc., a new company he founded. He also said the confiscated equipment is commercial-grade and is intended for the distillery.

Love said he published a legal notice of his intent in February 2011 and since then purchased distillery equipment based off of advice he had received from the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission. Love says they told him that in order for him to get the permit to own and operate a distillery in Lufkin he needed to purchase equipment and get it inspected first.

He said he has spoken to several people about his intention to open the distillery and has found the process very complicated. Recounting his steps to get more information on applying for the permit, he said he was first directed to Lufkin TABC agent Joey Davidson who then directed Love to Terry Hagen at TABC Longview. Hagen then directed Love to Loretta Green at TABC Arlington who then pointed him to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. They told Love he needed to get a federal permit before he could obtain a permit from TABC, which he has been working on obtaining.

Love was also told he needed to get a letter from the City of Lufkin granting him permission to open and operate a distillery within the city limits. He said he contacted the mayor's office, Judge Wes Suiter, and Jim Wehmeier, the former economic development director, about his intentions and says he has all the paperwork to prove that he was working on getting the permit.

He said the permit plans stalled once he had a death in his family and the process began to find it difficult to navigate through the steps of applying for the permit. But he says he has continued his plans to obtain the permit and open the distillery.

TABC Lieutenant Jeff Taylor said the Angelina County Sheriff's Department received the tip Monday evening that Love had distilled liquor in his possession. Taylor says the Sheriff's department then contacted TABC about the investigation. It was a collaborative effort between DPS, TABC, the Sheriff's Department, and Diboll PD to confiscate the liquor and distillery equipment.

"They forwarded that to us and through a joint investigation we drew up a search warrant, got a search warrant, signed this morning and executed the search warrant and this is what we found," Taylor said.

Taylor said they served the search warrant on Tuesday around 10:30 a.m. and confiscated several 15-gallon barrels and a handful of quart-size Mason jars filled with clear and amber liquor from a detached garage at Love's residence.

"There was approximately 100 gallons of what we call ‘mash', the finished product. That's one of the largest deals that we've gotten in awhile, so it's a pretty elaborate set up," Taylor said.

Love says he is not doing anything against the law and this is just a paperwork issue. He says he supports whatever decision authorities make, but says this is not anything close to a covert moonshine operation and he was trying to start a public business with city and federal approval.

But Sheriff Greg Sanches says it is still illegal to possess distilled liquor without a permit.

"Right now, course, we're still investigating this and making sure of everything and making sure that there is not any other violations involved that could lead us off to something else. Right now we're getting a warrant. We will get a warrant and issue the warrant and arrest that person," Sanches said.

The barrels will be tested for alcohol in Austin then dumped, Taylor said. The jars will also be tested and kept for evidence.

Sanches says if Love is convicted, he will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, but will face Class A charges. In the state of Texas those charges are up to $4,000 in fines and a year in prison.

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