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Indicted Wine Counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan Accuses FBI of Illegal Search

New details of arrest emerge as lawyers try to exclude evidence from "counterfeiting lab"

Peter Hellman
Posted: October 16, 2012

New details have emerged about the FBI's arrest of accused wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan, according to a defense motion filed last week. His legal team is trying to exclude evidence found in the home that Kurniawan shared with his mother in a Los Angeles suburb, including a wide range of materials that could be used in wine counterfeiting. FBI agents legally found the materials, according to the federal government, after a search warrant was issued shortly after Kurniawan's arrest early on the morning of March 8. But the defense motion claims that the search was effectively carried out at the time of the arrest rather than when the agents returned that afternoon with the warrant.

Two days before Kurniawan's arrest, according to the filing from the defense, an FBI agent posing as a neighbor searching for a missing pet knocked on his door. Kurniawan, a 35-year-old Indonesian national of Chinese ethnicity, answered the door, confirming that he was in residence in the four-bedroom, four-bath home. The FBI then formulated an "Operations Plan" for the arrest, according to the defense's filing, including a directive that, in "the event that evidence is observed in plain view at the residence, a search warrant will be obtained." The FBI had already obtained a warrant to search Kurniawan's email account, finding thousands of emails the Justice department believes are evidence of fraud.

The defense filing says that at 6 a.m. on the morning of the arrest, about a dozen federal agents knocked on the door of the house. Kurniawan, wearing jeans and a dress shirt, opened it. He was asked to step outside. On the lawn, he was arrested and handcuffed. His mother, Lenywati Tan, who said she had been brushing her teeth in an upstairs bathroom when she heard a commotion, appeared at the front door, wearing only a nightgown. She was also asked to step outside, but was not arrested. A Mandarin-speaking agent communicated with her.

While Kurniawan and his mother stood in front, according to the defense, several agents entered the house to make a "protective sweep" to ensure that the premises were secure. In the search warrant application filed later that day, Special Agent Olivier Farache claimed that "I and the other agents were able to see boxes on the floor that contained wine bottles … and the corner of a large wine refrigerator."

Toward the rear of the house, Kurniawan's lawyers claim, the agents came upon a locked room. Asked about the key to the room, Kurniawan said it was in his pocket. The agents used the key to unlock the door. According to the federal indictment against Kurniawan, the room contained, "[B]ags containing wine labels, bags of wine corks, a mechanical device used to insert corks in bottles, foil capsules used to cover corks, wax used to seal corks, rubber stamps used to stamp the year of a wine vintage … bottles submerged in water to aid in removing the labels, computer equipment (including printers), and a stack of pre-printed wine labels printed on high-quality paper."

Kurniawan and his mother were brought back into the house following the unlocking of the room, according to the defense motion. In the dining room, the agents asked Kurniawan to "begin cooperating with the agents immediately." His mother told her son in Mandarin "that we do not know the culture here and it would be better to speak with an attorney." Kurniawan agreed. After he was taken away by the agents, Tan said that "a female agent told me that I should leave the house and visit a friend. I declined. The agents stayed the entire day. In the afternoon, the agents searched the entire house and I saw them taking pictures."

Kurniawan's lawyers claim that the initial search of his house was an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and asks that "[a]ll evidence derived from the March 8 search should be suppressed."

An FBI spokesperson would not comment on the defense's accusation. The government's response to the defense motion is due Oct. 26. Meanwhile, Kurniawan remains in the Brooklyn Correctional Facility. 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.

Bruce Nichols
Naples, —  October 16, 2012 8:55pm ET
I would SERIOUSLY hope that the assertion that the FBI overstepped their legal boundaries here is false, but at the end of the day, if it looks like a bad bottle of wine, and smells like a bad bottle of wine, and tastes like a .... well you know the rest.

I can only hope that the full extend of the law - and a healthy dose of common sense prevail here. And with any luck, this guy will expose his co-conspirators in this.

That the "sellers" of his cellar didn't know what was going on is pure BS.

Open kimono time folks. From a consumer, broker, and passionate lover of wine, let's get this out in the open and cleaned up once and for all!

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