Convicted wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan has agreed to pay $3m and 'tell everything he knows' to settle a lawsuit with billionaire collector Bill Koch, after his sentencing was again delayed.
Rudy Kurniawan at his trial in December 2013. Image credit: Elizabeth Williams
The deal could shed more light on how Kurniawan – also known as Dr Conti – managed to sell millions of dollars of fake fine wine concocted in his home kitchen. He was convicted in New York last December.
News of the deal emerged after Kurniawan saw his sentencing delayed for the second time, until 4 August. He was also ordered by the court to forfeit $20m to victims of his scam.
Tell-all deal with Koch
In court, one of Kurniawan’s lawyers, Jerry Mooney, said a settlement had been agreed in California between his client and Koch, who has spent more than $25m on a personal crusade against fake fine wines.
Both Koch’s spokesperson, Brad Goldstein, and Mooney subsequently told Decanter.com that Kurniawan will pay Koch $3m in damages.
Goldstein said that Kurniawan, who remains in custody, has confessed to selling fake wines.
At Koch’s request, ‘Rudy has agreed to full cooperation, a debriefing, and has agreed to tell everything he knows about counterfeiting in the wine industry’, he added.
It remains to be seen how much extra information Kurniawan can divulge.
But, Maureen Downey, a fine wine authentication expert who has inspected Kurniawan wines and runs Chai Consulting in California, described the settlement as ‘great news’.
It comes one week after Koch announced that he had also agreed to settle a lawsuit against auction house Acker Merrall & Condit.
Acker Merrall, which sold many of Kurniawan’s wines, agreed to a ‘significant payment’ to Koch and to accept returns on all suspect wines, Koch said. Acker said it was pleased to have settled the case.
Kurniawan, who alongside producing fake wines was also found guilty of fraudulently attempting to get a $3m loan, was due to be sentenced in the US Southern District of New York court yesterday (24 July), but judge Richard Bermann postponed a decision after defence lawyers disputed prosecution claims over the amount of money owed to victims.
‘We argued that the government had supplied insufficient support on several major claims,’ defence lawyer Jerry Mooney said. ‘The judge agreed.’
A particular flashpoint was a $15m claim made by David Doyle, co-founder of Quest Software Inc and owner of the Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney. Doyle claimed he unkowingly bought more than 1,500 bottles of fake fine wine from Kurniawan. He also gave Kurniawan an Aston Martin car as part of payment.
Prosecutors have requested a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, but the defence has argued Kurniawan should be released after already being held in custody for more than 2 years.
Kurniawan to forfeit $20m
In court, judge Bermann also ruled that Kurniawan must forfeit $20m as a fund to repay some of those who bought his counterfeit wines.
It is unclear where that money will come from, given that defence lawyers have previously said Kurniawan has little money left.
Decanter.com understands from a separate source close to the situation that prosecutors were, as of today (25 July), still trying to authenticate wines to substantiate some victims’ claims.
They said in May that there was ‘no question’ that Kurniawan sold $20.7m-worth of fake wines that had not been returned for a refund, and they believed the true figure could top $30m.
The defence has always argued that Kurniawan was merely one player in a much wider wine counterfeiting scene. But, the prosecution said it was the Indonesian’s desire to ‘live like a king’ that drove him.
Written by Chris Mercer