The Bitter Taste of Wine
Anood Al Sharif
30th September 2017
Rudy Kurniawan’s birth name was Zhen Wang Huang, also known as “Dr. Conti”. He is a criminal who stole, lied, and cheated many people. He made a fortune and broke a wine auction record by $10 million dollars by selling fake wine. He was sentenced to ten years in prison in August 2012. He was Promoted in 2006 and his reputation was booming for eight years till he got caught. The FBI and CIA found a lot of evidence that proved Rudy is guilty of his actions. He was remaking very old wine bottles that don’t exist or exist and are hard to find.
The Judge made the 37-year old pay $28.7 million to the victim and $20 million as forfeiture agreement. He was mixing the wines to make them taste as though they were old and expensive. In one year, he had made 12,000 fake bottles of wine and sold them at a very high price in 2006. “Kurniawan was faking Grand-Crus and playing for high stakes at the big table, with fellow “whales” of the wine collecting wines” (Charney, 2016, p. 42). Imagine millions of dollars were spent on fake wine bottles. People who spend that amount of money are usually CEO’s, shareholders, Collectors, or very rich people.
This is a lifestyle that not everyone gets to experience. Money to waste on things that satisfy one’s self interest. However, it is arguably still unacceptable to steal from them. That is what Rudy Kurniawan did, he sold fake wine to the people who are wine lovers, and are willing to blow their money away. The situation leaves the victims who have been effected by Rudy’s scandal feeling like there house have been robbed, but in reality, it is like giving your house to someone who think you who really ends up robbing you. The main lesson of this scandal to the victims is to never trust someone who is new to the market. For example, as a buyer you have to do you research before purchasing an expensive item. It is like writing a check to someone you do not know at all, and you haven’t read the papers too.
Lessons to be learnt
The main lesson for the government is that they should monitor new people who enter the market. If Rudy’s scandal affected the stock market by 21% then that’s where the government should investigate. Instead, it took a curious man named Bill Koch to hire investigators when he realized a fault in one of his bottle from Rudy in his cellar collection. We live in a generation where social media is one of the world’s most powerful weapons. There is no such thing as privacy, and even a guy like Rudy who was lying to people will eventually get caught because everything is out in the open. Many people were affected by Rudy’s scandal and have suffered a great deal. His mother and brother were both traced and sent to prison for taking part in the affair, which means they have suffered, including all other victims who bought his products. Other than that, Laurent Ponsot, the maker of Burgandy, was also affected, because Rudy was buying his products and relabeling them as very expensive wine, which has damages the company’s reputation. Rudy was convicted of wire fraud, mail fraud, and counterfeit. This was a crime, and not just a civil misdemeanor; and the federal government was involved.
This was not only a crime, but also the largest criminal case of wine counterfeiting to date. The jury were the ones who found Rudy guilty, and the judge sentenced him to prison. He will be released after “serving a 10-year sentence at Taft Correctional Institution in California” (WineSpectator.com, 2017). How could a guy like Rudy get away with such a crime? It seems too good to be true for someone like him to get away with a crime like that. Entering a market that he has no experience of and making millions in his first year of promotion – how was that possible? Were there other people involved? I believe that there were greater and more powerful sources behind Rudy’s gaining an interest from this crime. There are multiple companies, or people selling fraud wine out there, who just never got caught.
The government should introduce a law prohibiting restaurants from reselling empty wine bottles; once used, these should be recycled. If one wishes to keep the bottle as a memory, then that should be recorded too. “Nobody died. Nobody lost their savings. Nobody lost their job,” defense attorney Jerome Mooney said, describing wine collecting as “more of a hobby” enjoyed by the 1%. Kurniawan’s fraud was compared to other economic crimes (Susman, 2017).
Ten years in prison for a crime like this may be too drastic a sentence, because the judge made Rudy pay everyone back; he also had to repay millions to Bill Koch, to close the case he opened against Rudy. Ten years may be the sentence for a second degree murder. I believe that he should have been given 2 to 3 year jail maximum, because he paid everyone back.
The government should also launch a wider investigation as to who else was involved, rather than just throwing Rudy’s mother and brother to jail. Rudy is a criminal, but his punishment should be appropriate to his actions. Everyone wants justice; the victims are all upset but they have received refunds for their loss. Kurniawan argued that the officers who raided his house in 2012 did not have a warrant and should not have done what they did. There was justice for the victims, but did Rudy have a fair trial? Some may grant that he did, but I consider the sanction he received was too high.
- Charney, N. (2016). Art Crime. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.
- Hellman, P. (n.d.). In vino duplicitas.
- WineSpectator.com. (2017). Wine Counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan’s Last-Ditch Appeal Denied | News | News & Features | Wine Spectator. [online] Available at: http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/Wine-Counterfeiter-Rudy-Kurniawan-Last-Ditch-Appeal-Denied
- Susman, T. (2017). Wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan, once an L.A. name, gets 10 years. [online] latimes.com. Available at: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-wine-sentencing-20140807-story.htm
- Sour Grapes. (2016). [film] Directed by J. Rothwell. Dogwoof, London: Met Film, Faites Un Voeu.
- Wallace, B. (2012). Château Sucker. [online] NYMag.com. Available at: http://nymag.com/news/features/rudy-kurniawan-wine-fraud-2012-5/
- Hellman, P. (2017). How an illegal immigrant pulled off the greatest wine scam in US history. [online] New York Post. Available at: http://nypost.com/2017/10/07/how-an-illegal-immigrant-pulled-off-the-greatest-wine-scam-in-us-history
- Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/rudy-kurniawan-counterfeit-fine-wine-dealer-sentenced-to-10-years-in-prison-for-selling-fake-vintages-1407432096#