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Jurors Could Decide Alleged Wine Counterfeiter’s Fate Soon

Prosecutors are ready to rest their case against Rudy Kurniawan, and the defense may not call any witnesses

Peter Hellman
Posted: December 16, 2013

Six days into the trial of accused wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan, federal prosecutors continue to pile on evidence that the 37-year-old Indonesian manufactured and sold fake collectibles. On Monday, Dec. 16, a veteran wine authenticator detailed at length how materials the FBI claims it found in Kurniawan’s home show how he reproduced rare old Burgundies and Bordeauxs. As the prosecution winds up its case, the jury could begin deliberations as early as Tuesday. A source for the defense indicated that they may not call any witnesses. Their client faces a potential 40 years in prison.

Most of Monday's session was given over to testimony by Michael Egan, the prosecution’s Bordeaux-based expert witness, who has spent a 30-year career authenticating wine. "I've studied 267 bottles [of Kurniawan's wines provided by the prosecution] very carefully," Egan said. "The vast majority I found to be counterfeit."

Using files lifted by the FBI from Kurniawan's computer, Egan showed how details in images of scanned labels of iconic wines had been erased and then replaced. On what appeared to be an image of an authentic label of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1959, for example, Egan said both the vintage date and number of bottles produced were removed in later images, so that a new vintage and production number could be added. An early-20th century Romanée-Conti label became a template for Romanée-Conti vintages 1921, 1919 and 1911, Egan testified, pointing out an identical slight tear in the lower left edge of the label of each wine, suggesting that they came from the same original.

Later in the day, Egan explained to the jury how he had determined that about two dozen bottles of Kurniawan-sourced wines were counterfeit. Some had been sold at two Acker Merrall & Condit auctions in 2006, while others were withdrawn from a Spectrum auction in London in February 2012 after collectors raised authenticity questions. Among them was a bottle of Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny Blanc 1962 that Egan, holding it up to the light and noting its sallow yellow color, said, "looks like it came from the urology department at Mount Sinai hospital."

Last Friday, the day opened with testimony from billionaire Bill Koch, who claimed that an ongoing examination of his wine collection has so far identified 219 counterfeit Burgundies and between 50 and 100 counterfeit Bordeaux, all traced to Kurniawan. Also testifying for the prosecution, albeit with no enthusiasm, was Antonio Castanos, a Los Angeles restaurateur and wine dealer who admitted that he had sold wines that belonged to Kurniawan under his own name and his son's, earning commissions of about $400,000 over several years. Castanos consigned the wines to the Spectrum auction in February 2012, less than a month before Kurniawan was arrested.

Also testifying that day was David Parker, who owns two wine businesses and recalled selling seven bottles of Romanée-Conti 1962 to Kurniawan in early 2006 for $6,000 a bottle. All had ullage levels of 2 inches or more below the cork, something Parker noted, along with other details, in his records. Those same bottles, identified by their serial numbers, were resold by Kurniawan at Acker's "Cellar II" auction in October 2006. The prosecution handed several of the bottles to Parker on the witness stand along with a ruler. The ullage had risen by about an inch in all the bottles. “Over time wine evaporates, it doesn’t regenerate?” asked Hernandez.

As he has throughout the trial, Kurniawan sat at the defense table, clad in a suit, silently watching, staring down a long prison sentence. It appears he will stay there, as his attorneys hope they have raised enough questions about the government case to avoid conviction.

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