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California arsonist gets 27 years

Mark Anderson, the former wine dealer who admitted destroying US$250m of wine in an arson attack, has been sentenced to 27 years in prison.

The October 2005 inferno at the Wines Central warehouse on Vallejo’s Mare Island, in California, which in 2009 Anderson admitted to starting, destroyed 4.5m bottles and caused an estimated US$250m worth of damage.

US District Judge Lawrence Karlton called the 19 counts against Anderson, including arson, a ‘grievous series of crimes’.

The judge said he was effectively handing a life sentence to Mark Anderson, a former Sausalito civic commissioner who is 63. Anderson claimed health problems, and during this week’s proceedings he lay on his side in court .

The warehouse stored bottles for about 95 Napa Valley wineries and collectors.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Ted Hall, the owner of Long Meadow Ranch Winery in St Helena, Napa, cried when he described to the court how an entire library of past and current vintages had been destroyed.

‘We lost our history. We can’t simply call up a factory and ask them to make us another vintage of 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon. It is gone forever. The fruit of our hands and our hearts is irretrievably gone, like a piece of fine art trashed by a barbarian sacking a city.’

While many clients of the warehouse were insured, others were not: Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga claimed an uninsured loss of US$27m.

The fire also caused some businesses to close down altogether.

Anderson pleaded guilty on the eve of trial in 2009, then withdrew the plea, claiming he had been coerced.

During the long-drawn-out trial process since Anderson’s arrest in 2007 reports emerged of his lavish lifestyle. He ran a boutique wine-storage facility himself, and wrote a lifestyle column in a local newspaper under the name ‘Joe Sausalito’.

It is believed he started the fire out of frustration and anger at mounting financial problems and the fact he was facing eviction from the warehouse.

According to his former lawyer, Anderson pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges including arson and tax evasion, in an agreement with prosecutors to help him avoid a possible sentence of life in prison without parole.

Anderson’s current lawyer, Jan Karowski, said he would appeal the sentence.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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