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Wine Spectator: Wine Counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison

August 8, 2014

Rudy Kurniawan, the first person to be tried and convicted in a U.S. federal court for counterfeiting wine, was sentenced yesterday to 10 years in prison, Wine Spectator reports. Once dubbed Dr. Conti by his fellow collectors for his love of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the 37-year-old Indonesian, dressed in prison blue and gray sweats, stood with his head bowed and hands clasped as U.S. District Judge Richard Berman pronounced the sentence. Berman also ordered Kurniawan to pay $28.4 million in restitution to seven of his victims and to forfeit $20 million in property.

The U.S. Justice Department had asked Berman to imprison Kurniawan for up to 14 years, pointing to a decade-long career as a counterfeiter of iconic wines, some of which he sold for tens of thousands of dollars per bottle. In the prosecutors’ view, Kurniawan was motivated by a “thirst for a life of luxury and status,” according to a presentencing filing. During the trial, the jury was shown copies of Kurniawan’s American Express charges at the Hermès boutique in 2007 and 2008 totaling $575,000.

Kurniawan’s defense team, led by Los Angeles lawyer Jerome Mooney, argued for a sentence of just under two and a half years, the time Kurniawan served since his arrest by FBI agents in March 2012. They portrayed Kurniawan, who arrived in California in the mid-1990s on a student visa, as a lifelong outsider who found acceptance and popularity after he discovered a gift for tasting and identifying high-end wines. They argued Kurniawan wanted to fit in with the privileged circle of ultrawealthy collectors he tasted with. But sourcing the rarest authentic bottles became increasingly difficult.

Unless an appeal keeps him in a Brooklyn detention center for now, Kurniawan can be expected to report to a federal prison soon. Judge Berman has signed a provisional order requested by the prosecution requiring Kurniawan to forfeit property, including two houses (one in the exclusive Bel Air section of Los Angeles), an interest in the vineyards and wines of a Burgundian wine company, collectible artworks, 21 watches, including 11 by Patek Philippe purchased for $638,680, and a Montblanc pen he purchased for $17,945.

The defense lawyers were clearly shaken by what they considered a too-lengthy sentence. Lead defense lawyer Mooney told Berman that it was “harsh.” And co-counsel Vincent Verdiramo later said, “I’ve had murderers who got less time. It’s practically a guarantee that we will appeal.”

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