WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - An billionaire member of the conservative Koch family can advance fraud claims against a wine broker, a federal judge ruled.
William Koch, a son to the late entrepreneur Fred Koch, had claimed Royal Wine Merchants and its principals were at the heart of a counterfeit wine conspiracy that has cost him dearly. Koch's brothers, Charles and David, control the politically powerful Koch Industries.
Though Royal Wine never sold any bottles to Koch directly, he says that it collaborated with known counterfeiter Harry Rodenstock to flood the market with wine forgeries. Rodenstock's real name is allegedly Michael Goerke.
Koch initially said their fraud caused him to pay $547,693 for 32 ultimately counterfeit bottles of wine. He has since amended the complaint to say that he paid more than $600,000 for 35 bottles of worthless wine. Of those bottles, 30 allegedly came from Zachys Wine Auctions, and others came from Acker, Merrall & Condit Co.
Rodenstock allegedly tricked Koch into thinking that bottles engraved with the initials "Th.J." came from a bricked-up Paris cellar that once belonged to President Thomas Jefferson.
Once Rodenstock had affixed counterfeit labels to old wine bottles, Royal would import the wine and market it throughout the United States, according to Koch's complaint against Royal Wine and its principals, Daniel Oliveros and Jeff Sokolin.
He accused of them fraud, conspiracy to defraud, aiding and abetting fraud, negligent misrepresentation, violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, conspiracy to violate RICO, and violating the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.
But the defendants insist that they did not know the wine was counterfeit.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley in West Palm Beach dismissed the individuals as defendants and tossed three of the claims against the company. Koch can advance only claims of fraud, conspiracy to defraud, aiding and abetting fraud, and violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices.
Royal has until Dec. 19 to file an answer to the claims.
Court records show that Koch also sued Royal Wine in New York County Supreme Court four months ago.
In October 2012, the 2nd Circuit put a nail in Koch's wine-forgery claims against Christie's auction house.
A New York appeals court dismissed Koch's claims against Acker Merrall in 2010. That same year, Koch had filed counterfeit wine claims in Los Angeles. He advanced similar claims in Chicago in 2008, and his lawsuit against Zachys was filed in 2007.
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