MANHATTAN (CN) – A wine seller who hawked “purportedly rare and expensive” vintages operated a counterfeit laboratory out of his California home for nearly a decade to swindle unsuspecting cognoscenti, federal prosecutors claim.
Authorities uncorked the claims against Rudy Kurniawan, also known as “Dr. Conti” and “Mr. 47,” in a richly textured, 25-page indictment on Wednesday, alleging frauds in the worlds of wine, art and finance.
“Between at least in or about 2004 up to and including in or about February 2012, Kurniawan rose to become one of the most prominent and prolific dealers in the United States of purportedly rare and expensive wine,” the indictment states. “Kurniawan gained stature as a wine collector, and otherwise ingratiated himself with wealthy wine collectors by, among other ways, providing collectors with tastings of his purportedly rare and expensive wines, holding himself out as a knowledgeable wine taster and evaluator, and flaunting his alleged expertise at detecting counterfeit bottles of rare and expensive wines.”
Turning his home into a “counterfeit wine laboratory,” Kurniawan allegedly “blended lower-priced wines so that they would mimic the taste and character of rare and far more expensive wines; Kurniawan poured his creations into empty bottles of rare and expensive wines that he procured from, among other places, a wine in New York City; and Kurniawan created a finished product by sealing the bottles with corks and by outfitting the bottles with counterfeit wine labels, including labels he created or helped create using stencils and rubber stamps, among other things.”
In one instance, Kurniawan allegedly bought a $100 bottle of Napa Valley wine to create a faux Bordeaux from the 1940s to 1960s. “Indeed, in his home Kurniawan even marked the bottle of Napa Valley wine with the notation, ’40s-60s Pomerol Graves,” the indictment states.
Kurniawan also allegedly ordered empty, rare wine bottles from New York City restaurants by Federal Express, to fill with his counterfeit creations, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors say Kurniawan sold the phony brands alongside genuine bottles of rare and vintage wines, hoping to elude detection by passing off any complaints as “spoiled bottles or aberrations.”
Though Kurniawan allegedly fooled several auction houses, misspellings and other packaging errors belied the products’ authenticity.
At an April 2008 auction, Kurniawan consigned “at least 97 bottles of wine purportedly from Domaine Ponsot, a highly acclaimed winery in Burgundy, France,” but he got the dates wrong on several bottles, according to the government.
“Some of the bottles purportedly came from vineyards and vintages that pre-date Domaine Ponsot’s production of that particular wine; and one of the bottles purported to have been bottled at Domaine Ponsot in 1929, but Domaine Ponsot did not begin bottling at Domaine Ponsot until 1934,” the indictment states.
A month later, Kurniawan allegedly double-pledged 25 works of art, including ones by Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst, to another unspecified New York auction house as collateral.
One of the wines that Kurniawan consigned to a London auction this past February, a bottle of “Lot 94,” had an “importer strip on the bottle” that had “a misspelling that does not appear on authentic bottles,” according to the indictment.
Kurniawan is also accused of trying to defraud an unspecified Manhattan finance company for a $3 million loan by omitting that he had more than $11 million in outstanding personal loans and was a permanent resident of the United States.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had ordered Kurniawan to leave the country years earlier, the indictment states.
Prosecutors seek forfeiture of all allegedly ill-gotten gains related to four counts of fraud.