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Wine collector accused of fraud, trying to sell fake French vintages

Rudy Kurniawan

A prominent L.A. wine collector faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted after being charged with allegedly obtaining millions of dollars in loans and attempting to sell $1.3 million in counterfeit French Burgundy.

Rudy Kurniawan, 35, was arrested Thursday without incident at his Arcadia home by FBI agents assigned to the Los Angeles office after a years-long investigation by the FBI Art Crime Team.

Federal authorities allege that in 2008, Kurniawan consigned at auction at least 84 bottles — or about $600,000 worth — of counterfeit wine he claimed were from the Domaine Ponsot winery in France. He claimed one of the bottles was a 1929 vintage, even though the estate did not begin producing the wine until 1934, authorities allege.

According to the federal complaint, he claimed other bottles were produced between 1945 and 1971 from the Clos St. Denis vineyard of Domaine Ponsot, but the winemaker did not produce wine from that vineyard until 1982.

When questioned about the source of the counterfeit vintages, Kurniawan told the Domaine Ponsot administrator he had obtained the bottles from contacts in Asia, but no such contacts could be located, federal authorities said.

Officials allege Kurniawan tried to repeat the fraud in London in February, using a straw seller to auction 78 bottles of Burgundy wine purported to be Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and expected to sell for $736,500.

The wine was withdrawn from auction after suggestions were made that it was counterfeit. One person noted on a well-known wine appreciation bulletin board that the four-digit serial numbers on some bottles should have been five or six digits. The foil around the corks was also alleged not to be genuine, and labels that were supposed to be from 1959 to 1971 included an accent mark that did not appear on the bottles until 1976.

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-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Rudy Kurniawan at a wine tasting in 2005. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

 
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