Yellow Tail creator John Casella is the victim of an alleged AUS$5.5m blackmail plot.
Casella, chief executive of Casella Wines, and his family, are also alleged to have been intimidated and threatened with violence since February last year.
A 67-year-old man appeared yesterday (Thursday) in Griffith Local Court in the Riverina region on charges of extortion. He has been remanded in custody until 10 February.
Court documents show that the man, Matteo De Dominicis, demanded AUS$300,000 from Mr Casella on 29 February last year, AUS$150,000 between 1 April and 3 May last year and AUS$195,000 on 1 November last year.
He was arrested on Wednesday after allegedly demanding a further AUS$5m between December 4 and that day.
A statement yesterday by New South Wales Police said that ‘a substantial amount of money was paid’ by the 50-year-old victim after receiving threats.
Casella Wines, based at Yenda in the Riverina, is Australia’s third largest wine company by crush after Constellation Brands and Foster’s Group.
It sprang to fame in 2001 when Yellow Tail became the most successful wine launch in the USA history, recording sales of about one million cases in its first year. Its current annual global sales total about 12m cases.
A local media report of court proceedings said that De Dominicis, of Yenda, had no family ties in Australia.
Casella Wines issued a statement today saying that John Casella had recently become the victim of alleged extortion.
‘John Casella is currently cooperating with the police and working with them to assist in their investigation,’ it said. ‘Due to this being a police matter we are not able to make any further statements at this time.’
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Written by Chris Snow in Adelaide