L.A. Wine Collector Accused of Trying to Sell More Than $1 Million in Counterfeit Wine

By Maria Nikias

Mar 9, 2012 4:05pm

LOS ANGELES — Rudy Kurniawan, 35, of  Los Angeles, a prominent wine collector, could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of a multi-million dollar wine-counterfeiting scheme.

He was arrested at his Arcadia, Calif.,  home Thursday for attempting to sell more than $1 million worth of counterfeit wine, culminating a year-long FBI  investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s office in New York charged the Indonesian national  with three counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.

“Mr. Kurniawan’s days of  wine and wealth are over if the allegations in this case are proved,” said  U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a news release announcing Kurniawan’s arrest. “He was the counterfeit, pawning off prodigious quantities of fraudulent wine himself to unsuspecting auction houses and collectors. But his alleged scheme did not end there – he also secured millions in fraudulent loans to fund a high-end lifestyle.”

According to the criminal complaint  filed  in Manhattan federal court, Kurniawan sold millions of dollars worth of wine in recent years, including approximately $35 million in 2006. The complaint also said that Kurniawan once told a major publication he could spot the “tell-all signs” of counterfeit bottles of wine.

“The bad-faith sale of any commodity you know to be a counterfeit, fake or forgery is a felony,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk in the news release announcing Kurniawan’s arrest. “Whether you are peddling a Picasso or a Petrus, a Botticelli or a Burgundy, unless it is what you say it is, the sale is a fraud.”

In 2008, Kurniawan allegedly consigned for auction at least 84 bottles of counterfeit wine, worth around $600,000, that were supposed to be from Domaine Ponsot in Burgundy, France, according to authorities. By request of Domain Ponsot’s administrator, the wines were withdrawn from the auction and Kurniawan was questioned.

According to authorities, Kurniawan said he acquired the bottles from someone in Asia and provided the administrator with two telephone numbers. However, the telephone numbers never led to anyone who sold wine and were  instead associated with a shopping mall and an Indonesian airline.

Kurniawan’s wine-dealing came under such scrutiny that major auction houses hesitated to accept his wines for auction. So recently  in London, Kurniawan tried to use a “straw” seller to sell 78 bottles of Burgundy wine, estimated to worth around $736,500. However, authorities say the fraud charges go beyond counterfeit wine. [ 

 Kurniawan ”engaged in multiple fraudulent schemes to obtain millions of dollars in loans at the same time he was spending millions on wine, clothing, jewelry and travel,” according to the news release.

U.S. Attorney Bharara praised the Los Angeles and New York field offices, and the FBI Art Crime Team, also adding that the investigation is ongoing.

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