The man accused of starting a 2005 California warehouse fire that destroyed $250 million worth of wine will finally get his day in court. The trial for Mark Anderson, who is charged with arson, fraud and numerous other counts, begins Nov. 17 in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.
The Sausalito businessman and wine collector is accused of setting fire to the Wines Central storage facility in Vallejo, just southeast of Napa, on Oct. 12, 2005. The fire was so massive and intense that firefighters battled the blaze for eight hours, stymied by the three-foot concrete walls of the building, a former Navy torpedo warehouse.
An estimated 6 million bottles of wine owned by 43 individual collectors and nearly 100 California wineries, including Whitehall Lane, Viader and Justin, were lost to the flames. A number of wineries lost entire vintages, including Long Meadow Ranch, von Strasser and Realm. Saintsbury and ZD lost rare libraries of old vintages.
Anderson, 60, is accused of starting the fire to cover up a scheme that defrauded thousands of clients of his wine-storage business, Sausalito Cellars. Customers believed their wines were aging in a secure, temperature-controlled environment, but authorities allege that Anderson secretly sold at least 6,700 bottles, including collections of Silver Oak, Heitz, Pride Mountain, Turley, plus an assortment of Bordeaux. In one case, Anderson sold thousands of bottles of wine through a Chicago auction house for about $74,000.
Before the fire, Anderson was already under investigation by Sausalito and Marin County officials after numerous clients complained about missing wine. Federal investigators concluded that the fire started in a locked storage area that Anderson leased within Wines Central.
Anderson has pled not guilty to all charges. "There is no evidence that he committed this arson," Anderson's attorney Mark Reichel said. "He was publicly identified as an embezzler and a thief, so he is the easy target. He had no records there and only a few bottles of wine. There's no motivation for him to burn the place down."
Federal prosecutor Steve Lapham expects the trial to last about three weeks.
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