A man who swindled wealthy wine collectors including billionaire William Koch by selling them more than $20.7 million in fake French vintages concocted in his home kitchen was ordered to forfeit $20 million by a federal judge in Manhattan.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman today, for the second time, put off Rudy Kurniawan’s sentence, after defense lawyers disputed the number of victims and the losses they suffered from the fake wine scheme. Berman delayed Kurniawan’s sentencing in May, saying he wanted to know more about the victims and their losses. The sentence may be handed down as early as next week, the judge said.
“My inclination is that the defendant has asked for a further process and I’m going to do that,” Berman said. “My practice is to go the extra mile.”
Koch, who said he’d purchased at least $2.1 million in phony vintage French wine from Kurniawan, has agreed to settle a separate fraud lawsuit in California state court, Kurniawan’s lawyer, Jerome Mooney, told the judge today. Koch was withdrawing his claim for restitution from Kurniawan, the U.S. said.
“Rudy has confessed to a judgment against him, agreed to pay a multimillion-dollar settlement and provide full cooperation to help reform the industry,” Brad Goldstein, a spokesman for Koch, said in an e-mailed statement.
Kurniawan, 37, was convicted by a jury in December of mail and wire fraud. The U.S. has asked the judge to sentence him to 14 years in prison, while Kurniawan’s lawyers say he should be released, having spent 2 1/4 years in U.S. custody already since his arrest in 2012.
Mooney argued against the methods government experts used to assess what percentage of wines Kurniawan sold were fakes, saying the judge should discount the government’s assessment that as much as 98 percent of some collections were phony.
David Doyle, co-founder of Quest Software Inc. who owns the Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney, purchased $15.1 million of bottles from Kurniawan, using money-transfers and the transfer of an Aston Martin vehicle, prosecutors said. At least 1,590 bottles were deemed counterfeit by a wine authenticator, Susan Twellman, Doyle’s estate manager said in a memo to the judge. The wines, if real, would be worth more than $19 million but are worthless fakes, Twellman said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stan Okula defended the government methods saying a specialist in inks and paper had reviewed Doyle’s collection and determined the bottles had to be fakes because the labels were made with an inkjet printer, which didn’t exist at the time the wines were made, some of which dated back to the 1940s.