Wine collector set for sentencing on fraud charges

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A California wine collector the government has characterized as a prolific counterfeiter who sold at least $20 million in fake wine faces at least 11 years in prison when he is sentenced Thursday on fraud charges.

Rudy Kurniawan, 37, was convicted in December of mail and wire fraud charges after evidence was presented to a jury that he manufactured bogus bottles of wine in his Arcadia kitchen, and then peddled them as vintage wine.

Although the charges carry a potential of up to 40 years in prison, federal sentencing guidelines call for him to serve at least 11 years in prison.

Defense lawyer Jerome H. Mooney has told U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman that Kurniawan, born of Chinese descent in Indonesia, should be sentenced to the two years and three months he has already served, since he will be deported anyway.

Mooney said his client used millions of dollars of his family’s money to build a large collection of rare wines from 2004 to 2012 as he was embraced by the wine collecting community, which attended tastings he arranged.

“Rudy liked the feeling of being the center of attention. It gave him a feeling of achievement and belonging that he had never before experienced,” he wrote.

At one party for Kurniawan’s mother’s birthday, actor Jackie Chan was a special guest, the lawyer said.

“The highlight of the evening for Rudy was when Jackie Chan stood on a chair and applauded Rudy. It was the best night of his life,” Mooney added.

But prosecutors say Kurniawan deserves a longer sentence after he sold millions of dollars of fake wines and then “flaunted that wealth with extravagant purchases of authentic wine, luxury cars, a Beverly Hills mansion, flights on private jets, designer watches and clothing, fine art and much more.”

They said his lust for money and attention motivated him.

“Simply put, Kurniawan is not sorry for what he did, he is sorry that he was caught,” prosecutors wrote. “The court should thus not show Kurniawan any leniency based on an 11th hour attempt to show remorse.”

Billionaire yachtsman, entrepreneur and wine investor William Koch filed a letter with the court saying he lost more than $2 million in the fraud and had spent millions more investigating it.

He said serious fraud merits serious punishment.

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press.