March 20, 2007 / 12:31 AM / 10 years ago

Man charged in arson of 6 million wine bottles

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors charged a California man Monday with stealing fine wine he stored for upscale clients and then burning down a warehouse holding 6 million bottles worth $200 million to $250 million to hide the scam.

The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California charged Mark Anderson with 19 criminal counts including arson, transporting fraudulently obtained property, mail fraud and tax evasion following the 2005 fire of the Wines Central warehouse in Vallejo.

The warehouse was south of Napa, one of the nation's best known and most expensive wine-growing regions, and the crime shocked the area where wine is big business.

Anderson, 58, of Sausalito, California, owned a business called Sausalito Cellars which leased a small part of a massive climate-controlled warehouse and charged clients to store bottles of wine there.

"As high as it sounds, a conservative estimate is $200 to $250 million and insurance estimates put it even higher than that," prosecutor Steven Lapham, who is leading the case, said in an interview. "It does seem staggering, but that's a lot of wine."

"The allegations are that he was embezzling his clients' wine and that to cover up the embezzlement he destroyed the wine of his that was still in there along with the rest of the warehouse."

The warehouse stored wine for 92 different wineries, including from elite Napa Valley wineries.

Anderson made his first court appearance in the case on Monday and was held in custody at least until Thursday.

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