A federal grand jury in New York has indicted accused wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan on four counts of mail and wire fraud—selling counterfeit wine, defrauding a finance company, double pledging collateral, and scheming to defraud a California wine collector and a New York auction house.
The charges were filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Kurniawan, 35, an Indonesian national, has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles since his arrest by the FBI on March 8 at his home. According to a source in the U.S. Department of Justice, Kurniawan will be extradited to New York in a government plane by a federal marshal, possibly as early as May 10.
The indictment details how Kurniawan allegedly “created and/or assisted in the creation of counterfeit wines” in a home laboratory. It describes Kurniawan as a wizard at concocting fake wines by mixing and matching younger, less valuable wines “that mimicked the taste, color and character of rare and expensive wines.” During their search of his home, the indictment alleges, the FBI found evidence of numerous bottles being counterfeited, including a relatively recent California Pinot Noir that Kurniawan had marked as “40’s/50’s DRC, ” potentially referring to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Agents also found thousands of counterfeit labels for wines dating as far back as the 1899 vintage, including labels for all the first-growths of Bordeaux as well as Burgundies such as Domaine Ponsot and Domaine G. Roumier. There were empty bottles from genuine rare wines ready to be filled and “recycled,” according to the indictment. Several shipments of empty bottles were mailed to Kurniawan at his request by a New York restaurant he had frequented in better times. Kurniawan had drained the bottles at extravagant lunches and asked for the empties as souvenirs.
The home operation was also fitted out with a cork inserter, hundreds of used corks, bags of new corks, foil capsules, and hardened wax which, when heated, could seal the mouths of bottles, as was customary in times past. There were also hundreds of rubber stamps for vintage dates, ranging from Château Latour 1899 to Screaming Eagle 1992. Also confiscated were notes by Kurniawan that allegedly explain how to manufacture counterfeit labels.
Two auctions play a major part in the case against Kurniawan. In April 2008, 84 bottles of purported Domaine Ponsot wines were withdrawn at the insistence of Laurent Ponsot, proprietor of the property from an Acker Merrall & Condit sale. Then in February, 20 lots of wine listed as DRC were withdrawn from a Spectrum wine auction in London. The indictment alleges the wines were fakes, consigned by a paid “straw man” for Kurniawan.
In a letter asking a California judge not to allow Kurniawan to be released on bond, the government estimated that if he were to be convicted on all charges, he could face up to 100 years in jail. More likely, according to sentencing guidelines, he would face 87 to 108 months.
Kurniawan’s lawyer, Michael Proctor of Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, told Wine Spectator, “We’re going to defend the case using the facts and law and the U.S. Constitution and look at all the angles. It’s very early in the legal process.” Asked about his client’s state of mind, Proctor said, “He’s strong, very strong.” Proctor says he is currently trying to obtain permission for Kurniawan's mother to visit her son in the detention center on Mother's Day.
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