World News

Wine maven Kurniawan, convicted of fraud, loses bid for freedom

FILE PHOTO: Some of more than 500 bottles of wine found to be counterfeit or unsellable are shown as they are being destroyed at a landfill in Creedmoor, Texas, U.S. in this December 10, 2015 US Marshals photo. Courtesy Lynzey Donahue/US Marshals/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) - The convicted Indonesian wine dealer Rudy Kurniawan on Monday failed to persuade a U.S. judge to set aside his 10-year prison term for counterfeiting an estimated $30 million of wine.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman rejected Kurniawan’s argument that his trial lawyers represented him ineffectively by failing to demand hearings to suppress evidence discovered when Kurniawan, 40, was arrested at his home in Arcadia, California.

The Manhattan judge said he would not second-guess the lawyers’ “strategic decision” not to demand hearings, and that holding them would not have mattered because authorities had probable cause to believe Kurniawan was selling “rare and expensive” counterfeit Burgundy wines at auction.

When Kurniawan was arrested on March 8, 2012, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents observed crates and wine bottles stacked 15 feet (4.5 m) high near the front door of his home, in plain view. Prosecutors have said Kurniawan mixed some of his fake wine in his kitchen.

A lawyer now representing Kurniawan did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Kurniawan was in his 20s when he began attracting notice for his wine tastes, and was dubbed “Dr. Conti” over his penchant for Burgundy wine, including from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.

In December 2015, a federal appeals court rejected an earlier request by Kurniawan to overturn his conviction.

Kurniawan is housed at the Taft Correctional Institute in California, and not eligible for release until January 2021.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker