“On Thursday, Mr. Kurniawan, 35, was arrested on charges — filed in federal court in New York — of trying to sell fraudulent wines, which, if genuine, would have been worth $1.3 million, and also of counterfeiting wine.”—Eric Asimov, New York Times, March 13, 2012
So, kid, what are you in for?
I bilked thousands of people out of money with a Ponzi scheme.
Yeah, I know Ponzi. Makes crappy Oregon wine. Though I loved him in “Happy Days.” I prefer Burgundy. Ever had 1923 Richebourg? I sold a bunch to some douchebags in LA. It was actually Lawry’s beef au jus, but those blowhards couldn’t tell. They just thought it had a dollop of Syrah in it.
I’m not talking about wine, I’m talking about taking millions of dollars from people who thought I was investing it in the stock market, then paying them dividends from money I stole from other stupid people who thought I was investing it. I should have been smart like you and just printed counterfeit money to pay them with.
No, I didn’t counterfeit money. I counterfeited famous and rare wines.
So, like submitting imaginary wine lists for Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards?
No, the actual bottles of wine. I forged bottles of wine to look like famous old wines, then got auction houses to sell them for me. Man, it’s a rush when your case of 1947 Cheval Blanc goes for $20,000 and it’s really a case of forged Cheval Blanc bottles filled with ’64 Louis Martini Cabernet I found at an estate sale. Even if they open the bottle and taste it, those chumps can’t tell. It’s not the wine they’re drinking anyway, they’re drinking the prestige, the label, the imagined history, their own hubris. Hubris tastes really yummy with foie gras.
Didn’t the auction houses suspect something was weird when a kid like you showed up with hundreds of bottles of rare wine?
Yeah, sure. And FaceBook cares about your privacy. It’s just a show, man. It’s entertainment. Like if you go on a game show and tell them you’re an elephant trainer when you’re really just a waiter—they don’t care if it’s the truth, just as long as your story is good enough to fool them. If it fools them, it will fool their audience. That’s the basic litmus test.
But why would they trust you? You certainly don’t look like any kind of wealthy wine collector or expert.
|I smell a sucker.|
Man, don’t let my looks fool you, I’m Dr. Conti! Do you know why they called me that?
You’re a gynecologist?
What? No. I had cases and cases of old Romanee-Conti, 90% of it fake, but still. And I’d always go to the best restaurants in New York and L.A. and if they had old DRC, I’d buy every damn bottle and drink it with these dupes, then pay for dinner. I’m guessing half the old and rare bottles of wine in those restaurants are fakes. I know most of the guys ordering them are. I spent so much money on Domaine de la Romanee-Conti wines, they started calling me Dr. Conti. It’s like I was a Chinese Dr. J.! Fooling those clowns was a slam dunk, that’s for sure.
But why are those old wines worth so much money? They’re just wine.
Amazing, right?! Wine collectors are nuts. They think that drinking these old wines gives them some sort of power, like Popeye downing a can of spinach. They try to one up each other. It’s a guy thing. My dick is bigger than your dick. Ever had 1870 Latour, they shout? Ever put ’59 Margaux in your mouth? Ever used ’45 Mouton as an enema? These are some seriously delusional guys. Wine defines them, gives them status, creates an imaginary aura of class about them, something they sorely lack. Watching them bid on my counterfeit wines was hilarious. They’d compete against each other for those fake wines like two guys wrestling naked in a D.H. Lawrence novel. Very homoerotic.
Hmm, that’s interesting. So I took the rich folks’ money by convincing them I’d make them even richer; you took their money by convincing them you’d make them more important and enviable.
Yup, you gotta either out-greedy the greedy, or out-vain the vain.
Dr. Conti—Vascular Surgeon!
Vains my specialty!
But how did you get caught? Me, I just gave in under the pressure and confessed. I should have just cashed out and gone into hiding. I should have moved in with Bin Laden. Or Martha Stewart. If there's a difference.
I made some stupid mistakes.
Got drunk and confided in someone?
No. I mean, I guess, in hindsight, I did a lot of stupid things that could have given me away. Like I would always take home the empty bottles of those rare wines I ordered in restaurants, so I could use them for fakes, or copy the labels.
That does seem odd. No one thought that was weird?
You’d think so. But, hell, I’d just bought these bottom feeders a $25,000 dinner. I could have taken home their empty marriages if I’d wanted. These were rich guys, stock traders and dot.com types, or they were “wine experts.” So also professional con artists. Nothing easier than conning a con—they’re the ones who are sure they can’t be fooled. I told them I was having a room built for these empty bottles of famous wines. Yeah, like collectors show off empty bottles. Losers display empty bottles of the ten great wines they’ve consumed, not guys with supposedly endless cellars.
So what brought down your scam?
Oh, I made up some bottles of wine that actually never existed, vintages of famous wines that pre-dated the actual winery, stuff that was clearly fake. It was stupid. I guess maybe deep down I wanted to get caught. My whole life was a fraud. I just wanted to be loved and admired.
Yeah, I was exactly the same way. And now I’m here in prison. Oh well, I think you’ll like it here, Dr. Conti.
I’m sure I will. Do they have any art classes?
Yes, they do. For rehab. Why?
I’m going to start working on labels for 2009 Bordeaux. By the time I get out, they’ll be worth a fortune!