WINE COLLECTOR CONVICTED OF FRAUD
IN ONE OF THE LARGEST cases of wine fraud to date, Rudy Kurniawan of Los Angeles has been found guilty of operating a fake wine factory and selling counterfeit wines – acts called “a betrayal” of the wine community. Some of the wines Kurniawan sold privately or at auctions fetched more than $5OOO per bottle. But wine experts said Kurniawan’s victims went far beyond a few very rich collectors and that his actions cast a cloud over the entire wine world. “It’s a betrayal of the winemakers and a betrayal of the buyers,” said wine expert Michael Egan, a prosecution witness who compared each bottle of fine wine to a historical artifact. By diluting such wines, Kurniawan muddied the history surrounding them, he said. “Every time you open one, it’s one less of a dwindling supply,” Egan said of the wines – some dating to the early 2Oth century – that Kurniawan was accused of doctoring. The jury deliberated for less than two hours after a week of testimony from witnesses who included French winemakers, sommeliers, billionaire wine investors, and the experts they hire to authenticate the contents of their cellars. In the end, jurors rejected defense attorney Jerome Mooney’s argument that Kurniawan, 37, was as much a victim of counterfeiting as any major collector and that he had unwittingly passed fakes on to others after buying them legitimately. He could receive up to 4O years for his conviction on two counts of fraud related to the fake wine and to his 2OO7 application for a $3-million loan from a New York finance company. Prosecutors said Kurniawan lied on the application about his collateral and about his immigration status by saying he was a permanent US resident. In truth, Kurniawan, who came to Los Angeles from Indonesia on a student visa in the 199Os, had been ordered to leave the country in 2OO3. He could be deported after serving his sentence.
Prosecutors presented a wealth of evidence, which sat on a table in front of the jury each day. There were plastic bags stuffed with thousands of labels from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Domaine Ponsot, Chateau Latour, and others, and marked with their most legendary vintages. Kurniawan reportedly printed the labels and stuck them on empty bottles he amassed. There were sacks filled with corks and a device used to extract corks without breaking them. There was sealing wax and foil, used in the re-corking process. There were also bottles, some empty and some full, strewn across his home. Assistant US Attorney Joseph Facciponti said Kurniawan would fill the empties with a “witch’s brew” of relatively cheap wine and expensive vintages and then slap on a fancy label to fool buyers. Egan said it didn’t matter whether the most affected victims were wealthy collectors. “Even if you’re rich, you’re still being hoodwinked,” Egan said. “You’re still being taken for a ride.”