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Wine Columnist Takes Wine Consultant to Court

LAS VEGAS (CN) - Wine experts are embroiled in a defamation lawsuit, in which the chairman of The Wine Institute of Las Vegas claims a San Francisco consultant accused him of being a "criminal [who] should be in jail with his cohorts."

Gil Lempert-Schwarz is chairman of co-plaintiff The Wine Institute of Las Vegas, and a wine columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He claims Maureen Downey and her company, Chai Consulting, continue making defamatory statements online and at wine events, accusing him of selling costly counterfeit vintage wines, and it has cost him millions in lost sales and commissions.

"There is neither any foundation of truth in any of this, nor any facts to back it up whatsoever; just pure bullshit and fantasy theories," Lempert-Schwarz wrote in a Nov. 25 message demanding the publisher of online forum Wine Berserker remove a post by Downey. The message is part of 54 pages of exhibits attached to the Dec. 10 complaint in Clark County Court.

Lempert-Schwarz founded and owns auction firm Dragon 8, which on Nov. 21 in Hong Kong conducted a sale of vintage wine, art and artifacts that took in $25 million, an amount the Financial Times reported as "underwhelming," according to another exhibit.

Before the auction, a Los Angeles attorney posted concerns on the Wine Berserker website that some of the wines listed for auction were counterfeit, including a 1945 Chateau Margaux and a 1937 Cheval Blanc, and Dragon 8 removed 18 of 250 lots listed for sale, again according to online postings in the lengthy exhibits.

The attorney's concerns centered on the wines' provenance and whether they really came from the wine cellar of an alleged Swedish nobleman, the name of whose family Lempert-Schwarz refused to reveal due to a confidentiality agreement.

Although Lempert-Schwarz removed the questionable wines, Downey told Wine Searcher: "He only removed them because he is busted. Gil has been caught in a blatant lie about the provenance of the Swedish nobleman," according to a Dec. 2 post in Exhibit 7.

Before the auction, Lempert-Schwarz says, he sent cease and desist letters to Downey, demanding she stop making "false, defamatory, disparaging and highly damaging" statements that harm his reputation and business interests. He says Downey continues to ignore them.

"They have threatened many times, and we have maintained that I can support my statements, and the discovery involved will be interesting," Downey said, declining to comment further.

Downey is an internationally recognized expert in wine fraud and has been interviewed about wine counterfeiting for "Inside Edition" and other shows and reports.

Lempert-Schwarz says in the complaint that Downey defamed him repeatedly, including during the February 2014 La Paulee wine event in San Francisco, when she approached him and a Burgundy wine producer and accused Lempert-Schwarz of being involved in wine fraud.

He claims that during a July 2014 wine event in Deer Valley, Utah, Downey told master sommelier Ron Mumford that Lempert-Schwarz is a "criminal and should be in prison with his cohorts," Lempert-Schwarz says in the complaint.

Downey claimed on the website that Lempert-Schwarz "has personally been responsible for overseeing the alleged 'authentication' of so much fake wine into the market as the authenticator for Acker Merral & Condit, Hong Kong and some USA, that it hurts my soul," according to the lawsuit and an exhibit.

Lempert-Schwarz asks the court to order Downey to stop defaming him, and damages for defamation, business disparagement and interference with existing and prospective economic advantage.

He is represented by Nikita Pierce, with Marquis Aurbach Coffing, who could not be reached by telephone Monday.

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