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Anderson accused of embezzlement, fraud, arson

A California wine collector stands accused of embezzlement, mail fraud, arson and tax evasion and faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted, according to police.

Over 8000 bottles of wine worth some US$1.2m are missing, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

As reported on decanter.com in March, federal prosecutors recently accused Mark Anderson of deliberately starting a fire at a warehouse in Vallejo in October 2005, where he rented space for wine belonging to his clients. Six million bottles owned by 92 Napa Valley wineries and 43 collectors, with a value of some US$250m, were destroyed.

It is alleged the arson was an attempt to cover up embezzlement. ‘He sold wine that was the same vintage and brand as those that went missing. We also recovered wine which he sold and which victims identified as their own,’ Sausalito Police Department lead investigator Bill Fraass told decanter.com. So far, only 19 bottles have been recovered, but police are still searching.

In detention since April in Sacramento, Anderson maintained his innocence at his last court appearance on 5 June.

Fraass added that if convicted on all state charges – 11 counts of embezzlement – Anderson ‘faces probation to 20 years incarceration. If found guilty on federal charges of arson, interstate transport of fraudulently obtained property, mail fraud, use of a fictitious name and tax evasion, that could result in life in prison.’

Police are still investigating new allegations against Anderson. No trial date has been set, Fraass said.

Anderson, 58, is a pillar of society. He served on two city commissions, attended Rotary Club gatherings and meetings of the Sausalito Parks and Recreation Commission, of which he was a member. He also belonged to a wine society and wrote a column as food and wine critic for the Marin Scope newspaper.

Marin Scope editor Tom Stern told the San Francisco Chronicle, ‘This is the act of a sociopath, and Mark isn’t a sociopath’, and former Marin Scope editor John Jackson said, ‘He was one of those people who would always enter with a smile and a joke.’

But estranged brother Steven Anderson – in a dispute over a family inheritance – told the Chronicle that he was not surprised about the embezzlement charges, because his brother ‘had to find another source of income after the money was gone.’

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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