Accused wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan, currently being held without bail at a Brooklyn federal detention facility, is working to have evidence of a laboratory for fake wines in his home excluded from his trial. Wine Spectator has learned that Kurniawan's lawyers will contest the legality of FBI agents' search of his home after his arrest in a Los Angeles suburb last March.
Kurniawan, 35, appeared Sept. 11 in a brief hearing in a Manhattan federal court room. Standing before U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, Kurniawan wore baggy khaki prison clothing and midnight blue tennis shoes. Berman set a schedule for filings by the two sides that will culminate in oral arguments on Nov. 14 on the defense's expected motion to suppress the results of the FBI's search.
In that search, according to a grand jury indictment, agents found an elaborate home laboratory for wine counterfeiting, including thousands of fake labels for wines with vintages as far back as 1899, labels for all the first-growths of Bordeaux as well as highly sought-after Burgundies such as Domaine Ponsot and Domaine G. Roumier. The home operation housed 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, as well as stencils to imprint the names of famous wine brands on wooden cases.
According to a source close to the defense, FBI agents had an arrest warrant but not a search warrant when they entered the house Kurniawan shared with his mother on the morning of March 8. The agents arrested Kurniawan and also "looked around," according to this source. Only later, did the agents return to Kurniawan's house with a search warrant to do a "protective sweep" of the home.
"Over the years, the Supreme Court has found many exceptions to the requirement for a search warrant, such as when evidence is in plain view," said the defense source, while insisting that no counterfeiting evidence was in plain view at the time of Kurniawan's arrest. "It's one thing if you search a person, or a car, but a person's home is sacrosanct. If our motion is granted, and evidence is suppressed, it's a whole different case."
The indictment describes Kurniawan as a wizard at concocting fake wines by mixing and matching younger and less valuable wines that "mimicked the taste, color and character of rare and expensive wines." Among bottles being used for counterfeiting, the indictment alleges, was a relatively recent California Pinot Noir that Kurniawan had marked as '40s/'50s DRC, presumably referring to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. While the indictment includes other evidence of counterfeiting and fraud by Kurniawan, the materials in his home were damning.
Besides being charged with selling counterfeit wine, Kurniawan is also accused of schemes to defraud a finance company by falsifying his application for a $3 million loan, and of double-pledging art works as collateral for additional loans from a New York auction house, and of attempting to defraud a California collector and the New York auction house.
An FBI spokesperson would not comment on the defense's accusation. Asked about the motion to suppress the search, Kurniawan's lead attorney Michael Proctor said, "Our motion is being made to ensure that the Constitution is being honored in the letter and spirit in this case. Other than that, we will let our court papers do the talking."
Click to enlarge these photos, provided in March 2012 as evidence by the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York when it requested a stay of the bail conditions for Rudy Kurniawan. The U.S. Attorney's office stated in the bail appeal document that the images were taken when the FBI searched Kurniawan’s home and found and seized, among other things, the following: