Wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan – once considered one of the top five wine collectors in the world – was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday after being found guilty of making and selling fake vintages for nearly $30 million.
The Indonesian-born 37-year-old was convicted in December of mixing up hundreds of bottles of wine in his kitchen before labeling and selling them as rare vintages.
"This was a very serious economic fraud, a manipulation of US and international markets," Judge Richard Berman said.
Berman ordered Kurniawan to pay a total of $28.4 million to seven victims for losses incurred from the sale of the counterfeit wines.
Kurniawan built his success on his exceptional palate, capable of identifying and memorising the world's finest wines. But he was found guilty on December 18 of defrauding buyers and collectors between 2004 and 2012 by selling counterfeit bottles of rare and expensive wine.
Wearing glasses and blue prison garb, Kurniawan was motionless as he heard his fate.
"I'm very sorry for what I have done," he said in an almost inaudible voice.
'Fraud is fraud'
Prosecutors had branded him as a liar motivated only by greed, making millions by selling more than 1,000 bogus vintages blended in the California home he shared with his Chinese mother.
Over the course of the proceedings against him, prosecutors also cited Kurniawan's penchant for fast cars, designer watches and contemporary art collections, saying his life was built on an elaborate lie.
It was in his home on the outskirts of Los Angeles that thousands of labels for the finest Burgundy and Bordeaux wines were found. Full bottles of wine were waiting to be labeled, with investigators also coming across intricate formulae on how to concoct vintage-tasting wine by blending a mixture of far cheaper wines.
"Your honour, fraud is fraud. And the defendant carried it out for years. He did it for money," prosecutor Stanley Okula told the judge.
The defense, however, sought to portray Kurniawan as a man motivated only by a desire to be accepted in the country he immigrated to 20 years ago on a student visa before making a name for himself in the exclusive market for vintage wine.
"He did what he did because he was very insecure," said attorney Jerome Mooney. "He needed to be accepted, recognised."
The allegations against Kurniawan first arose over an April 2008 auction in New York where he had offered 97 purported bottles of Domaine Ponsot for sale for between $440,500 and $602,000.
But French wine expert Laurent Ponsot, of the acclaimed Domaine Ponsot winery, became suspicious and flew to New York to ensure that the Acker Merrall & Condit auction house withdrew the lot.
After allegedly trying to sell more dubious wine at a 2012 auction in London via an intermediary, Kurniawan was arrested in March of that year.
After less than two hours of deliberations, a New York jury also convicted him in December of fraudulently obtaining a $3 million loan.
The two convictions carried a maximum sentence of 20 years each.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-08-08