Prominent high-end wine collector and dealer Rudy Kurniawan was arrested in Los Angeles Thursday on charges that he tried to pass off $1.3 million in fancy bottles that were actually counterfeit. Kurniawan, 35, who pulled in tens of millions a year in the wine trade, led a lavish lifestyle and was being investigated, as the Times reports, by an “elite squad” of the FBI that deals in art thefts and other such crimes.
The part about the case that’s sure to delight wine geeks is that Kurniawan was found out, in part, because he tried to sell bottles that couldn’t possibly exist, if one knew anything about the vineyards he was dealing in. For instance, he tried to pass off a bottle of 1929 Domaine Ponsot, but Domaine Ponsot did not begin estate bottling until 1934.
The story bears a little resemblance to Mark Lugo, the New York sommelier who took to stealing expensive art off the walls of hotels to furnish his apartment, and who was recently sentenced to sixteen months. But, obviously, Lugo was small-time compared to this guy.
Kurniawan, an Indonesian citizen who also goes by the name Dr. Conti, has actually been living in California illegally since 2003, after an appeal to an application for asylum was denied. He’s now being held without bail, as a judge stayed a decision to allow a bail release based on fear he would try to flee the country.