US wine dealer who made $1.3m by selling ‘vintage’ stock made in kitchen facing up to 40 years in prison

Renowned seller made fortune from bogus bottles sold to rich American collectors

He was once the toast of the town, a wine dealer who became the “stuff of legends” because of an almost magical ability to procure the world’s finest vintages for the rich and famous.

But various well-heeled clients will now be spluttering into their Burgundy after it emerged that much of the wine that 37-year-old Rudy Kurniawan sold them was fake, and concocted in his kitchen in California.

The magic was nothing more than “smoke and mirrors”, a prosecutor told his fraud trial this week in New York.

It was a scam that lasted for eight years and made Kurniawan at least $1.3m (£794,000), according to the prosecution, although some witnesses claimed they paid him more.

Billionaire entrepreneur, yachtsman and wine investor Bill Koch told the court he alone had paid the Indonesian-born dealer some $2.1m for 219 fake bottles. He has also hired an expert to try to work out just how many of the 43,000 bottles of wine he owns are counterfeit.

Meanwhile, Kurniawan, of Arcadia, California, faces a heavy price for his audacious fraud – up to 40 years in prison.

It does not appear that the taste of his wine gave Kurniawan away, even though he mixed some fine wines with cheaper ones.

Instead, collectors became suspicious when they noticed some labels had spelling errors or were for vintages that did not actually exist for the date given on the bottle.

Michael Egan, the expert hired by Mr Koch, testified that 19,000 counterfeit labels of 27 of the world’s best wines had been found at Kurniawan’s house. “There’s going to be a lot of wines to be cleaned up,” Mr Egan said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The whole thing about these great wines is that they’re meant to be historical artifacts. Every time you open one, it’s less of a dwindling supply,” Mr Egan said.

Mr Koch said Kurniawan was a “clever counterfeiter” who “made some stupid mistakes”. “For example, he sold a rare French wine supposedly from 1928, which was six years before that particular wine was ever bottled,” he said.

In his closing arguments, assistant US Attorney Joseph Facciponti said that Kurniawan’s sales had become “the stuff of legends”. “For a while, his magic show worked,” Mr Facciponti told the jury, the Associated Press reported. “The magic seller wasn’t magic at all, but just a bunch of smoke and mirrors.”

Prosecutors said Kurniawan spent his money on luxury cars, designer clothing and fine food and drink. He had been ordered to leave the US in 2003, but had not left or been deported, they added.

Defence lawyer Jerome Mooney insisted Kurniawan had simply been trying to please his wealthy clients. “He was just showing off. He wanted to be part of the club,” Mr Mooney said. “Did he do something he should not have done? Probably. He re-corked. He reconditioned wines. But he didn’t set out to defraud anyone.”

Mr Mooney added that Kurniawan will have spent two years in prison on remand by April, when he is due to be sentenced. “I think that’s enough,” he said.

Laurent Ponsot, of leading Burgundy producer Domaine Ponsot, said Kurniawan had “played a game” and lost.

But while Mr Ponsot declared himself “satisfied” with the legal proceedings, he was saddened by the scam’s wider implications. “Wine is a kind of element made by nature to bring people together and make people happy,” he said. “I’m not happy because… the wine has been dirtied.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

£15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Special Needs Support Worker

£12 - £14 per hour: Recruitment Genius: We are looking for someone to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

£15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence