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Kurniawan trial: Defence fights back as jurors told to discuss verdict

Rudy Kurniawan's defence team used their only witness to paint him as more a victim than a fraudster, but state prosecutors insisted that he was merely a greedy individual who concocted a 'witch's brew' of fake wine to dupe collectors.

Defence Atty Jerome Moodey showing wine cork to jury during his summation Judge Richard Berman presiding. Foreground: Defendant Rudy Kurniawan (Image credit: Aggie Kenny)

On what turned out to be the final day of evidence in the trial, Kurniawan’s defence team called on Cornelius Robert Collins, a fine wine expert in the business for 35 years.

Collins reiterated what he said in a pretrial hearing that, after examining around 50 bottles of wine put forward as evidence by the prosecution, ‘nearly all of the bottles have serious problems and would be considered fake, or counterfeit’.

But, Collins agreed with defence attourney Jerome Mooney that there could be more than one source for the counterfeits he has examined. In particular, he picked out ‘three distinct approaches’ to counterfeiting on labels, and also cited a difference between ‘amateur’ and ‘sophisticated’ fakes.

Under cross-examination, state prosecutors sought to undermine Collins’ status as an expert. They suggested that an email exchange between Collins and Kurniawan in 2007 showed the expert seeking advice on imported Burgundy wines from the defendant.

Prosecutors added that Collins’ testimony provided no alternative scenario to Kurniawan concocting fake wines in his own kitchen.

‘Mr. Collins, you don’t have any testimony to offer that links any of the fake bottles in this case to actual purchases made by the defendant. Correct?’ said prosecution lawyer Jason Hernandez. ‘No,’ said Collins.

Prosecution lawyers pushed their message home in their closing statement on the case. Joseph Facciponti, for the prosecution, said Kurniawan was motivated by ‘undying greed’ and used his Los Angeles home to create ‘a witch’s brew of bad old and decent new wines that he mixed to try to make passable fake wines’.

He said, ‘The arguments made by Mr Mooney are that, in essence, oh, he’s just a misunderstood guy. He’s kind of an unlucky guy. If he is, he’s the most misunderstood guy in the world’.

Facciponti returned to Kurniawan’s claim that he had found a ‘magic cellar’ with a stash of rare, valuable old wines.

‘But there was just one problem. There was no magic in the magic cellar. It was only the defendant’s lies. And why did he tell all these lies? Because of greed.’

For the defence, Mooney returned to the theme of Kurniawan being caught up in a much bigger web of counterfeiting across the fine wine world. ‘Counterfeits are rampant,’ he told jurors.

He portrayed Kurniawan as a increasingly desperate character, who got himself into trouble because of debt. The key to the case, he said, is intent. ‘It’s only fraud when you intend to mislead people and you intend to mislead them in order to get property from them.’

At the end of the day, jurors were told to consider their verdict.

Written by Chris Mercer

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