Rudy Kurniawan is going to trial. Thirteen months after his arrest by FBI agents, the Indonesian national, once at the top of the rare-wine world as a dealer and collector, pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan federal court today to a two-count indictment charging him with schemes to sell counterfeit wines and to defraud a finance company to the tune of $3 million. While the trial is several months away, Kurniawan has shown no sign of making a deal with federal prosecutors.
Kurniawan, 36, dressed in baggy prison khakis, looked thinner and paler than at previous hearings. He listened as Judge Richard Berman tentatively set a trial date for Sept. 9, though that date did not sit well with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Hernandez, lead prosecutor in the case. "We have three or four winemaker witnesses," Hernandez told Berman, "and that's their busy time. I may ask for a later date because I don't think I should have to forgo these important witnesses."
The new indictment, filed April 8, supersedes one from last spring. Asked by the judge how the new counts differ from the original ones, Hernandez explained that the fraud charges were consolidated and that two wine sales by Kurniawan in 2006 were added—the sale of six purported bottles of Domaine G. Roumier Bonnes Mares 1923 at auction for $95,000 and a purported jeroboam of Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945 sold directly to a New York collector for $48,259.
"What's a jeroboam?" inquired Judge Berman.
"A really big bottle of wine," Hernandez replied. "Four and a half liters."
The new indictment also lists property that the government wants Kurniawan to forfeit, including the home he shares with his mother near Los Angeles, a large unfinished house in the suburb of Bel Air, and three cars—a 2008 Lamborghini, a 2011 Mercedes and a 2008 Land Rover. Kurniawan also stands to forfeit $743,797 in jewelry (mainly watches), a $17,945 Mont Blanc pen, and a pair of chandeliers purchased for $259,800, as well as numerous paintings, an interest in a restaurant and a Burgundy vineyard. Kurniawan's attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
As a housekeeping matter, Hernandez asked Berman for a small table in front of the judge's bench and the jury at the trial, so that "a couple of hundred exhibits" could be displayed. As an example, Hernandez held up several plastic baggies, including one packed with Romanée-Conti labels in sizes for regular and large bottles, presumably from the stash uncovered during the FBI's search of Kurniawan's house. Berman agreed.
Twenty minutes before the hearing started, in a neighboring courthouse, the final witness completed his testimony in wine collector Bill Koch's civil lawsuit against collector Eric Greenberg. Koch was one of several people in the courtroom who hurried across the street to witness the Kurniawan hearing. Koch filed a wine fraud lawsuit against Kurniawan in 2009, which is pending until the completion of the criminal trial.
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