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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Big Wine Collector|Could Do Hard Time

MANHATTAN (CN) - Federal prosecutors accuse a California wine dealer of trying to sell more than $1 million in counterfeit wine, and of fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in loans.

Rudy Kurniawan, 35, of Arcadia, faces a five-count indictment accused him of wire fraud, scheming to defraud a finance company and a New York auction house, attempting to sell encumbered wines at an international auction house, attempting to sell counterfeit Domaine Ponsot wines, and attempting to sell counterfeit Domaine de la Romanee-Conti wines at a London auction. The second and third counts are classified as wire fraud in the 50-page complaint, the fourth and fifth counts as mail fraud.

"Mr. Kurniawan's days of wine and wealth are over," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement announcing the unsealing of the indictment. "As alleged, Rudy Kurniawan held himself out to be a wine aficionado with a nose for a counterfeit bottle, but he was the counterfeit, pawning off prodigious quantities of fraudulent wine himself to unsuspecting auction houses and collectors. But his alleged scheme did not end there - he also secured millions in fraudulent loans to fund a high-end lifestyle. He will now have to answer for his alleged crimes."

The U.S. Attorney said in the statement that Kurniawan has sold "millions of dollars of wines in recent years, including approximately $35 million worth in 2006 alone."

But he screwed up, prosecutors said, when he tried to sell a bottle of 1929 Domaine Ponsot, "but that was not possible because Domaine Ponsot did not begin estate bottling until 1934."

The U.S. Attorney's statement continues: "He also consigned bottles of wine that had purportedly been bottled between 1945 and 1971 from the Clos. St. Denis vineyard of Domaine Ponsot. However, Domaine Ponsot did not make wine from that vineyard until 1982. Ultimately, the wines were withdrawn from the auction at the request of Domaine Ponsot's administrator. When questioned by the administrator about the source of the counterfeit wines, Kurniawan said that he acquired the bottles from a certain person in Asia and provided the administrator with two telephone contact numbers. However, neither telephone number led to that person or anyone else who sold wine. One number was the contact for a regional Indonesian airline, and the other was associated with a shopping mall in Jakarta."

When he came under suspicion, prosecutors say, Kurniawan used a straw seller to try to sell 78 bottles of Burgundy, allegedly from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. If authentic, the bottles would have gone for more than $9,000 a pop, prosecutors say: a total of $736,500. But again, Kurniawan allegedly screwed up.

"For example," according to the U.S. Attorney's statement, "on a prominent wine-appreciation bulletin board, one individual detailed a series of concerns about the authenticity of the wine, noting, among other things, that some of the bottles included four digit serial numbers when genuine bottles would have had five- or six-digit serial numbers; that the foil around the cork was not like the foil that covered the corks of genuine bottles; and that the labels on bottles of wine purporting to be from 1959 to 1971 included an accent mark that did not appear on bottles until 1976."

C'est la vie.

Each of the five fraud counts is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

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