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Prosecutors Reveal Evidence Against Accused Wine Counterfeiter

Hundreds of corks, capsules and labels of iconic wines the FBI says it confiscated from Rudy Kurniawan's home

Peter Hellman
Posted: December 11, 2013

Since FBI agents knocked on Rudy Kurniawan’s door 20 months ago, federal prosecutors have accused the well-known wine collector of not just selling counterfeit wines, but making them in what they called a “workshop” in his home. On Tuesday, Dec. 10, in the final hour of the second day of Kurniawan's trial in a Lower Manhattan federal courtroom, the prosecution put on a startling display of show and tell. Standing in front of the jury, FBI Special Agent James Wynne, who arrested Kurniawan at his home in Arcadia, Calif., opened several cartons filled with materials he said were confiscated from that house.

Wynne first showed the jury a large cork inserter, looking like a giant set of pliers, found in Kurniawan's kitchen sink along with a siphon and a wine fork cork remover that does minimal damage to the cork. He produced dozens of clear plastic bags filled with corks, foil capsules, labels of iconic wines, stencils and an array of inking stamps that appeared designed to print serial numbers on labels or to brand corks with property names and vintages. The jury passed the bags of evidence among themselves.

The labels and inking stamps featured iconic names and vintages of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Packets of labels, many in sizes apparently meant for large-format bottles, bore such names and vintages as Château Pétrus 1921 and 1947, Lafite Rothschild 1959 and 1982, and Latour à Pomerol 1947. Some labels had peel-off backings with adhesives beneath, so that they could be easily affixed to bottles. There were bottles of glue as well. There were also sheets with grids of small round stickers that said "Reserve Nicolas," signifying that the wine originated from the cellars of a chain of French wine shops once known for exceptional bottlings.

Dozens of inking stamps that could be used to brand corks were passed around. Some stamps appeared to be designed to create the illusion that the corks were for reconditioned bottles, such as Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945, "rebouché en 1977" and Mouton-Rothschild 1966 "Rebouché  en 1999."

It’s not a crime to counterfeit a famous painting, and it’s not illegal to counterfeit a famous wine as long as it’s not used for a dishonest purpose. But the government alleges that Kurniawan designed a scheme to sell counterfeits. Earlier Tuesday, the government introduced into evidence more than 20 bottles of wine, purportedly from Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine G. Roumier and Domaine Ponsot, sold by Kurniawan at various Acker Merrall & Condit auctions in New York. Prosecutors intend to prove all the bottles are counterfeit. The proprietors of each of those properties are expected to testify about the bottles in question. When a suspect magnum of DRC Romanée-Conti 1962 was handed to a juror, Judge Berman told her, with a smile, "You know the expression—If you drop it, you own it." Someone in the viewing gallery whispered audibly, "It's worth zero."

In Monday's opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Hernandez said, "This is a case about greed." Prosecutors say Kurniawan wanted to make money, plain and simple.

Defense Attorney Jerome Mooney countered that Kurniawan, an Indonesian of Chinese ethnicity, has spent his whole life as an "outsider" who "always wanted to belong.” His client, Mooney admitted, "bought counterfeits [and] sold counterfeits. Everybody else bought and sold counterfeits. But, because he's not one of the insiders, we're here. And he's the one that some of these people are going to want you to believe is responsible for all of the awful, horrible things that have happened with regards to the wine market.”

After Tuesday’s show and tell, Mooney’s challenge will be to convince jurors his client wasn't making counterfeits in what appeared to be a well-stocked operation.

Louis Robichaux
Highland Village, Texas —  December 11, 2013 4:14pm ET
Thank you for the update. I had been wondering all week about the details of the evidence. Look forward to more updates from WS. The spotty coverage of this trial in the mainstream press is void of the details that WS readers will appreciate.

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