UK citizen Stephen Burton, 58, was extradited to the US on Friday 15 December and summoned to appear in court the next day to face charges related to an alleged $99m (£78m) wine fraud scheme.
He was flown to the US from Morocco, where he was arrested in 2022 after entering the country with a fake Zimbabwean passport, said the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Burton has been charged with wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in a court hearing on 16 December, reported the Reuters news agency.
Federal prosecutors alleged last year that Burton and a co-defendant ran a fraudulent wine investment scheme via a company trading as Bordeaux Cellars, from at least June 2017 to February 2019.
This involved brokering loans between investors and high-net-worth wine collectors. Investors were allegedly told they would receive regular interest payments and that their money would be secured against the value of collectors’ fine wines.
Those collectors didn’t exist, however, and the defendants’ company didn’t hold the wine supposedly securing the loans, said the Attorney’s Office.
Investors’ money was used to make fraudulent interest payments and for personal expenses, it said.
It added that the charges in the indictment are allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven to be guilty.
Extradition proceedings in the UK are ongoing for another defendant, named by the Attorney’s Office as James Wellesley, 56, said the Attorney’s Office.
Both defendants also operated under aliases, according to the 2022 indictment document. It said ‘Bordeaux Cellars’ was the trade name for two companies – ‘Bordeaux Cellars, Limited’, registered in Hong Kong, and Bordeaux Cellars London Ltd, registered in the UK.
If convicted, the defendants may each face up to 20 years in prison.
‘With the successful extradition of Burton to the Eastern District of New York, he will now taste justice for the fine wines scheme alleged in the indictment,’ said US Attorney Breon Peace.