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Justice Department Rejects Kurniawan's Illegal Search Accusations

Court filing asserts that FBI agents had reason to sweep his home; includes photos of alleged "counterfeiting lab"

Peter Hellman
Posted: November 8, 2012

The U.S. Justice Department has filed a memorandum rejecting the claim by accused wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan that FBI agents illegally searched his house after arresting him on the morning of March 8, 2012. Kurniawan's attorneys are trying to exclude evidence found during a search of the suburban Los Angeles home he shared with his mother. Although the government did not obtain a search warrant until later that day, its lawyers claim that the agents did not violate the Fourth Amendment by immediately entering the house and conducting an initial search. As part of that search, the agents obtained a key to a locked room from Kurniawan, entered it and found what they claim was a wine counterfeiting workshop.

In the memorandum, filed Nov. 6, Justice Department lawyers defended the warrantless search of the premises for three reasons. First, a "protective sweep" of the entire house was required to ensure that nobody was lurking who might put the agents in danger. Second, the premises had to be secured pending the agents' return with a search warrant.

The third reason was to make sure that "no one would destroy evidence in the house," according to the motion. In a footnote to its memorandum of law, the lawyers state that Kurniawan's mother, Lenywati Tan, who lived with him and declined to leave the house after his arrest, "could have destroyed evidence out of fear for her own potential criminal liability." After Kurniawan was taken away, a Mandarin-speaking agent remained in the house with Tan until agents returned to execute the search warrant.

Numerous photos taken in Kurniawan's home on the day of his arrest accompany the Justice Department memorandum. Among them are photos of wine cartons and cases piled in the entrance foyer, a treadmill in the kitchen covered with wine bottles, and bottles soaking in the sink, possibly to release their labels. Another photo shows what appears to be a tool to cork wine bottles. Yet another photo shows four bottles of red Burgundy labeled as Henri Jayer Richebourg 1985 perched on top of a wine rack. According to the Wine Spectator Auction Database, three bottles of that wine sold earlier this year for $12,100 per bottle.

Another photo shows a spreadsheet labeled "AKM WINE RETURNS." It appears to list 39 lots of wine returned to auctioneer Acker Merrall & Condit. Comparing the lots and the purchase dates on the spreadsheet with Acker auctions, many of the wines listed were sold at a two-day sale called "The Cellar," in January 2006. All 1792 lots at that sale were known to have been consigned by Kurniawan. On the spreadsheet, "reasons for return" are listed for the wines, including "photocopied labels", "unbranded corks", and "wrong color waxed capsules". The most expensive lot on the spreadsheet, a jeroboam of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1990, sold for $85,000 ($100,725 with buyer's premium). The sheet says it was returned due to "Photocopy label." In all, the 39 lots on the spreadsheet sold for $829,837 before buyer's premiums.

Kurniawan's defense lawyers are scheduled to answer the government on Nov. 12.


Exhibit Gallery

Click to enlarge these photos, provided as evidence by the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York when it filed a memorandum in the case against Rudy Kurniawan. The U.S. Attorney's office stated in the memorandum that the images were taken when the FBI searched Kurniawan’s home:

Cases of wine The kitchen Label removal? Re-corking device? Acker, Merrall & Condit spreadsheet

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