A Conclusion for Man Who Duped the Rich With Fake Wine

Rudy Kurniawan was deported to his native Indonesia after serving 7 years
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 14, 2021 10:25 AM CDT
A Conclusion for the Man Behind an Epic Wine Fraud
In this March 2, 2005 file photo, "wine collector" Rudy Kurniawan participates in a wine tasting in Los Angeles.   (Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times via AP, File)

A one-time California man who bilked wine collectors out of millions by selling cheaper booze he rebottled in his kitchen has been deported to his native Indonesia, US immigration officials said Tuesday, calling him a "a public safety threat because of his aggravated felony conviction." Rudy Kurniawan, 44, came to the US on a student visa in the 1990s, unsuccessfully sought political asylum, and was ordered to voluntarily leave the country in 2003. He stayed on illegally, authorities said. In a public black eye for the wine industry, prosecutors at Kurniawan's New York trial said he made millions of dollars from 2004 to 2012 by putting less-expensive Napa and Burgundy wines into counterfeit bottles at his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia. The scheme was recounted in the 2016 Netflix documentary, Sour Grapes, and in a March episode of ABC’s The Con. Among the details, per the AP:

  • Kurniawan built a reputation as a buyer and seller of rare wines and netted tens of millions of dollars at wine auctions. Other collectors dubbed him "Dr. Conti" for his love of a Burgundy wine, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
  • Kurniawan's trial featured testimony from billionaire yachtsman, entrepreneur, and wine investor William Koch, who said he was conned and cheated by Kurniawan into paying $2.1 million for 219 fake bottles of wine.
  • A wine expert testified that 19,000 counterfeit wine bottle labels representing 27 of the world's best wines were collected from Kurniawan's property. An FBI raid on the home in 2012 also turned up hundreds of bottles, corks, and stamps.
  • In one auction in 2006, Kurniawan sold $24.7 million in wine, a record for a single consignee.
  • However, the scheme began to unravel after several consignments he submitted for auction were found to be fake. In 2007, Christie's auction house in Los Angeles pulled a consignment of what was supposed to be magnums of 1982 Château Le Pin after the company said the bottles were fake.
  • In 2008, 22 lots of Domaine Ponsot wine valued at more than $600,000 were pulled from a sale amid questions about their authenticity. One bottle of Domaine Ponsot that Kurniawan attempted to sell at auction in 2008 was passed off as having been made in 1929, even though the winemaker didn’t begin estate bottling until 1934. Others were billed as having been bottled at a specific vineyard between 1945 and 1971, even though Domaine Ponsot said it didn’t start using that vineyard until 1982.
  • Kurniawan also once consigned to an auction more magnums of a 1947 Château Lafleur than were actually produced, prosecutors said.
  • In all, Kurniawan may have sold as many as 12,000 bottles of counterfeit wine, many of which may still remain in collections.
  • Prosecutors said money from the fraud funded a lavish lifestyle in suburban Los Angeles that included a Lamborghini and other luxury cars, designer clothing, and fine food and drinks.
  • Kurniawan was convicted of mail and wire fraud in 2013 in a New York federal court and spent seven years in prison. He was deported after being released from prison into immigration custody last November. At his sentencing, Kurniawan was ordered to pay $28.4 million in restitution to seven victims and to forfeit $20 million in property.
(More Rudy Kurniawan stories.)

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