Sixteen months after someone pried open the door of one of the world's most famous restaurants, the French Laundry, and stole more than $300,000 worth of rare wines, the case has grown into a federal investigation involving three burglaries and money laundering across state lines. Federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment on April 28 in San Francisco against two California men, accusing them of money laundering and transportation of stolen goods. Both men were arrested April 27 and have pleaded not guilty.
"The defendants knowingly and willfully conspired with others to commit offenses against the United States," reads the indictment against Alfred Georgis, 53, of Mountain View, and Davis Kiryakoz, 44, of Modesto. "That is to transport, transmit and transfer in interstate and foreign commerce from the state of California to the state of North Carolina, stolen goods, that is more than 130 bottles of wine, of a value of $5,000 or more, knowing the same to have been stolen."
The burglary of chef Thomas Keller's famed Napa Valley restaurant on Christmas Eve of 2014 attracted national attention. The thieves, who targeted the restaurant while it was closed for renovations and its alarm was off, got away with 76 bottles of some of the world's most expensive wines, including multiple bottles from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Screaming Eagle.
After learning of a North Carolina man who had unknowingly bought stolen wine, Napa County sheriffs traveled to the state last January and recovered most of the bottles, matching them by serial number to the French Laundry wines. To determine who had sold the wine, the sheriffs turned to the FBI for help.
Federal agents used telephone records and financial transactions, including money orders and wire transfers, to identify the suspects and discovered that they were dealing with not one theft, but three. On March 27, 2013, someone broke into the merchant Fine Wines International in San Francisco, taking about 140 bottles. Georgis and Kiryakoz began speaking with their North Carolina buyer at that time, according to the indictment. On Nov. 8, 2014, Alexander's Steakhouse in Silicon Valley was hit, with 39 bottles taken, including rare Bordeauxs. Video from the restaurant's surveillance cameras shows two hooded men breaking in and taking the wines from display cases.
Following the robberies, the indictment alleges, Georgis and Kiryakoz had much of the wine transported to North Carolina and received multiple cashier's checks and wire transfers totaling more than $57,000. Each transaction was less than $10,000, which would keep it off the radar of investigators at the U.S. Treasury Department.
The thefts are unusual because they weren't random—they indicate a deep knowledge of collectible wines and their rarity. In fact, the wines' rarity is what alerted the buyer to the possibility he was dealing with stolen goods.
Georgis and Kiryakoz have both pleaded not guilty in federal court. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000. It's possible they could also face state charges for the burglaries. The two men could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group declined comment. No trial date has been set.