If you think wine snobs are full if it, the story of Rudy Kurniawan might prove you right.
The 35-year-old from Arcadia was arrested this week after federal authorities accused him of selling what is essentially expensive, counterfeit wine that would have been worth $1.3 million had it been real.
What's really strange about this story is that …
… Kurniawan presented himself as a foremost buyer and sharer of the world's best and priciest wines. A Los Angeles Times profile of him in 2006 stated that he was known to drop $1 million a month on rare wine. And not to collect it; to drink it.
The piece stated:
Kurniawan has enough family money to have amassed one of the world's premier wine collections, estimated at its peak to be more than 50,000 bottles of the most celebrated Bordeaux and Burgundy wines of the last century.
… Kurniawan's outsize taste for old wine, however, has changed the market, say auction house insiders. Since he started buying, prices for rare wine have skyrocketed.
He was known to serve up rare, six-figure bottles at his dinner parties, too. And he boasted that he could tell counterfeits when others couldn't. So what the hell was he doing allegedly selling fake wine?
Feds say that the Indonesian of Chinese heritage has actually sold a lot of wine too, $35 million worth over the last six years. Some of the fake vino he tried to sell allegeldy included vintages and serial numbers that never actually existed, prosecutors say.
In fact, after incidents in 2008 in which he apparently admitted to trying to sell faux wine (the bottles were withdrawn from auction), Kurniawan's goods came under “increased scrutiny,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York:
… Major auction houses became reluctant to accept his wines for auction.
They allege he began to use “straw sellers” to peddle the stuff at auction.
And there's more. The guy who appeared to have an endless flow of “family money” was in fact in debt. The feds say he …
… engaged in multiple fraudulent schemes to obtain millions of dollars in loans, at the same time he was spending millions on wine, clothing, jewelry, and travel. In one scheme, in late 2007 and early 2008, KURNIAWAN lied in order to procure a $3 million loan from a Finance Company. He made false representations concerning his liabilities, specifically, by understating his personal debts by over $11 million.
Boastful, fake-rich immigrants in L.A? That never happens. Kurniawan faces three counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara:
Mr. Kurniawan's days of wine and wealth are over, if the allegations in this case are proven. As alleged, Rudy Kurniawan held himself out to be a wine aficionado with a nose for a counterfeit bottle, but he was the counterfeit, pawning off prodigious quantities of fraudulent wine himself to unsuspecting auction houses and collectors. But his alleged scheme did not end there – he also secured millions in fraudulent loans to fund a high-end lifestyle. He will now have to answer for his alleged crimes.
Mmm. We can smell the terroir of federal prison already.