Rudy Kurniawan, Indonesian fake-wine seller, jailed for 10 years in US

Indonesian sold millions of dollars of counterfeit bottles to rich collectors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 9:49pm
UPDATED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 9:49pm

An Indonesian man, once considered one of the world's top wine collectors but who US prosecutors later called a "kingpin of counterfeit" for selling millions of dollars of fake French wine to the wealthy, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail in Manhattan federal court.

Rudy Kurniawan used his refined palate and luxurious lifestyle to hoodwink some of the world's most discriminating wine lovers with his "bold, grandiose, unscrupulous, but destined-to-fail con", US District Judge Richard Berman said.

As well as the jail sentence, Kurniawan was ordered to pay seven buyers a total of US$28.4 million in compensation.

The sentence would serve as a deterrent to other counterfeiters, the judge said. "The public at large needs to know that our food and drink are safe and can trust what's on the label," Berman said, "and not some potentially unsafe, home-made witch's brew."

Kurniawan, 37, was convicted by a federal jury last December of one count of mail fraud for creating and selling counterfeit wines and one count of wire fraud for defrauding a financing company over a US$3 million loan.

Prosecutors were seeking a prison sentence of 12 to 14 years, while Kurniawan had requested time served. He has already spent 29 months in custody.

At Thursday's hearing, Kurniawan told the judge he was sorry, and said he wanted to be able to take care of his mother, who is in poor health.

Berman said his victims lost close to US$30 million as a result of the scheme, which took place between 2004 and 2012. Most were wealthy collectors in the rarefied world of vintage wines, where a bottle can fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

Among them was billionaire industrialist William Koch, who testified at the trial and who last month settled a civil suit against Kurniawan for US$3 million.

During the sentencing hearing, Kurniawan's attorney Jerome Mooney cited the victims' wealth as a reason for leniency. Comparing the crimes to those that occurred during the financial crisis, he said: "Nobody died, nobody lost their savings, nobody lost their job."

Prosecutors rejected that argument. "Fraud is fraud," said Assistant US Attorney Stanley Okula. Calling Kurniawan a "kingpin of counterfeit," Okula said: "He wanted to line his own pockets. That's what this case is about."

Kurniawan was not shy about flaunting his wealth, estimated at one point at US$41 million, according to the judge. He had a Beverly Hills mansion, a Lamborghini, and flew on private jets. A US$20 million forfeiture order listed property such as a US$50,000 Patek Philippe watch and a US$17,945 Montblanc pen.

Mooney told the judge his client was simply trying to fit in with an insular crowd of rich, successful wine connoisseurs.

Other victims included David Doyle, the founder of Quest Software, whom the judge ordered Kurniawan to pay US$15.1 million, and former Vornado chief executive Michael Fascitelli, who must receive US$3.4 million.

Kurniawan, who was born in Jakarta, will be deported to Indonesia after serving his sentence.