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Man charged over California wine blaze

US prosecutors have charged a Californian man with embezzlement and arson following a warehouse fire that destroyed US$300m dollars of wine.

Mark Anderson, 58, from Sausalito, California, was charged yesterday with 19 criminal counts including arson, fraud and tax evasion.

Anderson, who ran fine wine storage company Sausalito Cellars, used part of the Wines Central warehouse in Vallejo, near San Francisco, to store his clients’ wines.

In October 2005, the 240,000 sq/ft warehouse burned to the ground, destroying around 6m bottles of wine. According to reports, the warehouse stored wines for 92 different wineries, including cult Napa producers.

Saintsbury, the respected Carneros Pinot Noir producer, lost all of its older wines dating back to its first vintage in 1979. Fellow Californian winery Justin Vineyards lost 15,000 cases of wine, 38% of its total annual production, in the blaze.

Insurance companies estimate the total damage to be between $250m and $300m.

‘We feel like I imagine an individual who may have been raped or shot walking down the street feels,’ Wines Central warehouse boss Jack Krystal told local paper the LA Times.

Prosecutors say that Anderson stole the wine he was storing, sold it on through a separate company using several aliases, and set fire to the old US Navy warehouse in order to cover up the embezzlement.

‘Mark Anderson put lives at risk to cover his tracks,’ said attorney McGregor Scott. ‘Due to his greed and deceit he now faces many, many years in prison.’

The prosecutors, however, are refusing to explain how they linked Anderson to the crime.

Written by Oliver Styles

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