Wine Forger Rudy Kurniawan Gets 10 Years in Prison
Fake wine, a counterfeit kitchen, and bad intentions do not pay off.
On August 7, Los Angeles wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The crime? Carrying out an elaborate scheme to manufacture and sell counterfeit bottles that were purported to be rare and expensive wines, for millions of dollars, according to a statement from the New York field office of the FBI.
Kurniawan, who was born in Indonesia, was also charged with fraudulently obtaining a $3 million loan from a financing company. He will be deported once his sentence is served.
Kurniawan was found guilty of forgery charges this past December, following a one-week jury trial before US District Judge Richard Berman. At the time the conviction was announced, Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Rudy Kurniawan perpetrated a vintage fraud scheme, not only peddling counterfeit wine, but concocting, bottling, and labeling what he foisted on his victims. As the jury found in its verdict today, Kurniawan was also the author of a fictional tale that enabled him to defraud a lender of $3 million. He now stands to pay for his fraud with time behind bars in a federal prison.”
In order to dupe his unsuspecting, wealthy clients—who included billionaire William Koch and tech entrepreneur David Doyle—Kurniawan mixed cheaper, more common wines into old bottles with fake labels and then sold the bottles for millions of dollars. In addition to his prison sentence, Kurniawan was ordered to forfeit $20 million, and pay $28.4 million restitution to his victims. Koch testified at the criminal trial and has brought a civil suit against Kurniawan.
According to the FBI statement, Kurniawan obtained the loan by providing false information and concealing other details from the financing company, including omitting roughly $7.4 million in outstanding loans and misrepresenting annual expenses. He also falsely represented that he was a permanent US resident. In fact, he had been ordered by an immigration court to leave the country years earlier.
Kurniawan’s lawyer, Jerome H. Mooney, told reporters that his client will likely appeal. Mooney was quoted as saying, “No one died. No one lost their life savings.” But his attempts to emphasize the point that many of Kurniawan’s clients were rich, did not sit well with Judge Richard Berman. “Fraud is fraud,” Berman said. He also characterized Kurniawan’s scheme as “bold, grandiose, unscrupulous but destined to fail.”
A recent segment on 20/20 detailed how Kurniawan manufactured fake wine in the “counterfeit kitchen” of his suburban home by soaking labels off bottles, printing up new ones that sported much-coveted names like Chateau Petrus Pomerol, and then filling them with combinations of cheap wine from other bottles. However, he made glaring mistakes along the way, such as creating and putting up for auction bottles of Clos Saint-Denis from the 1940s and ’50s, even though that winery didn’t start producing that appellation until the 1980s.
Collectors who bought from and trusted Kurniawan eventually began fronting money to him so he could find rare vintages. “He started to make up these wines because he couldn’t find them,” Mooney said.
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