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Former wine collector gets 10 years in prison for counterfeiting

By Andrew Chung

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Indonesian man, once considered one of the world's top wine collectors but who U.S. prosecutors later called a "kingpin of counterfeit" for selling millions of dollars of fake French wine to the wealthy, was sentenced to 10 years in jail in Manhattan federal court on Thursday.

Rudy Kurniawan used his refined palate and luxurious lifestyle to hoodwink some of the world's most discriminating oenophiles with his "bold, grandiose, unscrupulous, but destined-to-fail con," U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said in imposing the sentence, along with $28.4 million in restitution to compensate seven unsuspecting buyers.

The sentence would serve as a deterrent to other counterfeiters, the judge said.

"The public at large needs to know that our food and drink are safe and can trust what's on the label," Berman said, "and not some potentially unsafe, homemade witch's brew."

Kurniawan, 37, was convicted by a federal jury last December of one count of mail fraud for creating and selling counterfeit wines and one count of wire fraud for defrauding a financing company in connection with a $3 million loan.

Prosecutors were seeking a prison sentence of 12-14 years, while Kurniawan had requested time served. He has already spent 29 months in custody.

At Thursday's hearing, Kurniawan told the judge he was sorry, and said he wanted to be able to take care of his mother, who is in poor health.

Berman said his victims lost close to $30 million as a result of the scheme, which took place between 2004 and 2012. Most were wealthy collectors in the rarefied world of vintage wines, where a bottle can fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

Among them was billionaire industrialist William Koch, who testified at the trial and who last month settled a civil suit against Kurniawan for $3 million.

During Thursday's sentencing hearing, Kurniawan's attorney Jerome Mooney cited the victims' wealth as a reason for leniency. Comparing the crimes to those that occurred during the financial crisis, he said, "Nobody died, nobody lost their savings, nobody lost their job."

Prosecutors rejected the argument. "Fraud is fraud," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stanley Okula.

Calling Kurniawan a "kingpin of counterfeit," Okula said, "He wanted to line his own pockets. That's what this case is about."

Kurniawan was not shy about flaunting his wealth, estimated at one point at $41 million, according to the judge. He had a Beverly Hills mansion, a Lamborghini, and flew on private jets. A $20 million forfeiture order listed property such as a $50,000 Patek Philippe watch and a $17,945 Mont Blanc pen.

Mooney told the judge his client was simply trying to fit in with an insular crowd of rich, successful wine connoisseurs.

Kurniawan, who was born in Indonesia, will be deported after his sentence.

Other victims included David Doyle, the founder of Dell Inc unit Quest Software Inc, whom the judge ordered Kurniawan to pay $15.1 million, and former Vornado chief executive Michael Fascitelli, who Kurniawan must pay $3.4 million.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung, additional reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Frances Kerry, G Crosse and Noeleen Walder)

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