Arresting development: FBI charges Rudy K of counterfeiting fine wine

FBI wine

The FBI arrested the man known as Rudy Kurniawan at his home in Arcadia, California yesterday on charges of selling counterfeit wine. Inside the home, the authorities found materials used for making counterfeit wine bottles. They charged him with selling $1.3 million of fake wine but in 2006 alone, Kurniawan sold $33 million of wine at auction. They also charged him with “fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in loans to finance what prosecutors called his ‘high-end lifestyle.” Check out all the details to this fascinating story in this piece at nytimes.com.

One thing that baffles me is how a fraudster could sell wines that, in fact, were never made. One example: the feds have charged Kurniawan with selling a bottle of 1929 Ponsot but Ponsot only started estate bottling in 1934. If one were to make and sell fake wine, don’t you think you’d take the time to make sure that the wines you were counterfeiting actually existed? And what of the auctioneers, did they not this or did they turn a blind eye to it? It will be interesting to learn more details as they emerge.

For those who think the FBI just roots around for terrorists, there’s apparently an elite unit that targets fraud in art and collectibles. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the movie version of this story. Against a background of wealth porn, a brash young collector emerges on the scene; a go-go auction atmosphere; duplicity and gullibility; an angry billionaire seeking vengeance; and members of the elite FBI unit. We’ve discussed casting options for the first part of this saga before but hopefully someone in Hollywood will give this project a green light. I’m ready to head over to Starbucks right now with my Mac to play the part of screen writer right now!

The case is U.S. v. Kurniawan, 12-MAG-606, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

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16 Responses to “Arresting development: FBI charges Rudy K of counterfeiting fine wine”


  1. Doc – There is already a TV show dealing with this very subject: White Collar. Last season (or maybe the first season) they had our hero make a counterfeit bottle of Bordeaux supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson!


  2. With a quick Google search I foun this 2006 LATimes article,

    http://articles.latimes.com/2006/dec/01/entertainment/et-rudy1

    I wonder if the story about his family is true, or it’s just part of the scam.


  3. Goddess – I didn’t know that so thanks for the heads up. I’m still waiting for this story to make the silver screen, though!

    Elias – Yes, that was a good profile–thanks for the link. It will be interesting indeed to see what is real and what is fake in this story when the dust settles.

    To all: winediarist has posted a pdf of the complaint against Rudy, aka “Dr. Conti.” Uncork something fun, pour a glass, and take a look–some pretty interesting reading.


  4. Sort of an interesting question as to whether you can counterfeit something that never existed in the first place. I mean, at the very least it is fraud — the wine was not from 1929 and it was not bottled by Ponsot — so it’s not like it’s okay, but still.


  5. The pdf of the complaint is fascinating reading. This guy dug himself deeper and deeper as time went on.


  6. Odd that this fellow was tripped up on a date. But I understand that it’s happened before. Other casting options for the docudrama: Fraudulent seller: Ashton Kruchner, Auctioneer: Gary Oldman, Thomas Jefferson: ( I, too, like Nick Nolte), Hired Detective: Jean Dujardin (the Artist), Billionaire: George Clooney, Love Interest: Brittany Spears (the billionaire’s daughter, and girlfriend of Ashton, but is secretly working undercover for the Detective whom she really loves)


  7. Michael – Yes, such bottles would fraudulent for sure but counterfeits of the estate.

    Jean-Luc – indeed, quite a read!

    Robin – Ha, glad you had fun with it. I like your picks (though not Brittany–ack) and embellishments. A sure-fire hit!


  8. Mike at winediarist has been following this story for a while and has posted a letter from federal prosecutors with evidence found in Rudy’s home. A pretty amazing list of items. He also posts pictures of scads of labels, stamps, and capsules.


  9. This is crazy! I’m always amazed at what people will try and get away with!


  10. hahaha. oh no whats next? going through some poor old ladies bag and finding a 30yr old bottle of wine and arresting her?


  11. [...] story of Rudy Kurniawan’s arrest on charges of selling counterfeit wine has been all over the news since the FBI arrested him on [...]


  12. “There is already a TV show dealing with this very subject: White Collar. Last season (or maybe the first season) they had our hero make a counterfeit bottle of Bordeaux supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson!”

    It’s a really interesting show, it’s catchy and show’s you a side of the crime division that is not widely publicized. That being said, it’s interesting to hear about a real case that is currently taking place.


  13. I’m going to have to check that show out, it does sound interesting.


  14. As a wine professional I do not like to see this kind of wine fraud, it does not do justice to an otherwise reputable business. However, where is the FBI in regards to Obama’s fraudulent birth certificates, hidden college records etc., & a plethora of black holes in his dark & demonic past. Think about it; some wine collectors got screwed purchasing some of Rudi’s bogus bottles. The rest of us honest citizens have to live with an illegal immigrant, Muslim, Communist pretend to be Prez that make Rudi’s labels look authentic!


  15. [...] indictment largely covers the same ground as the documents filed when Kurniawan was apprehended in his home in L.A. in March. It fails to name the auction house where Kurniawan was the consignor of wines in 2008 where [...]


  16. [...] The collection has many mature wines and it remains to be seen what the estimated 10,000 bottles will fetch at an upcoming Sotheby’s auction. But perhaps the big question for bidders as well as chef Ferran Adria and his partner Juli Soler is whether they will apply the same creativity in the sale as they did in the kitchen. Thirteen-year-old albarino may fetch one price, but what about doing the food-wine pairing for collectors and selling an essence of oyster and albarino microfoam served on the half shell? Or an orb of Corton-Charlemagne lobster? Or reformed into already-fermented grapes with “with their mad sphere-making gadgets and such“? With such an imprimatur, the wines would be harder to counterfeit. [...]


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