Is Rudy Kurniawan planning to plead insanity? His lawyers have requested permission for a psychiatric examination of the accused wine counterfeiter, currently being held in a Brooklyn detention center. A Nov. 7 request by co-counsel Vincent Verdiramo, in a letter to presiding judge Richard Berman, comes just 32 days before Kurniawan's trial is scheduled to begin in a Lower Manhattan federal courtroom.
The request did not sit well with the prosecution. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Hernandez asked the judge for an "immediate status conference to address defense counsel's application." The defense request, according to Hernandez, suggests that Kurniawan, 37, "may seek to raise a defense of insanity or claim that he is not competent to stand trial." The conference is expected to take place Nov. 12.
In his letter to the judge, Hernandez writes that he called Verdiramo, Jersey City-based co-counsel for Kurniawan, to "seek clarification" and that Verdiramo "told us, in sum and substance, that he could not disclose the reason(s) for the requested examination." The two experts chosen by the defense to examine Kurniawan are S. Shane Konrad, a forensic psychiatrist, and Virginia Barber-Rioja, a forensic psychologist.
The other lawyer on Kurniawan's defense team, Jerome Mooney of Los Angeles, was quick to shoot down any talk of insanity pleas but did not explain why a psychiatric examination was necessary. "We are not seeking and do not anticipate, an incompetency claim or an insanity defense," Mooney wrote in a Nov. 8 letter to Berman. "It is not our intention to attempt to delay the trial. Instead, there are certain things that have come to our attention during our brief time with our client that we believe require further evaluation."
Kurniawan was arrested by the FBI at his home in Arcadia, Calif., in March 2012 and has spent the past 18 months awaiting trial. The two-count indictment charges him with mail fraud in a scheme to sell counterfeit wines and defrauding a finance company.
Another defense filing on Nov. 7 offers a possible preview of Kurniawan's courtroom strategy if the case goes to trial. In its proposed questions to prospective jurors, the defense summarizes Kurniawan's not-guilty plea this way: "Upon being introduced to the exclusive world of fine wine, he quickly became recognized as one of the finest palates in the world. He suddenly found himself immersed in an exotic universe of wheelers and dealers in rare and expensive wines. He was soon buying and selling wines in a rarified world populated by rich, often arrogant individuals who frequently looked for a scapegoat for perceived defects or shortcomings in their dealings with others. Mr. Kurniawan is that scapegoat.”