Monday, May 19, 2014

Dr. Conti Pleads for Leniency


Your Honor,

It wasn’t my fault. It was that fucking Jackie Chan. I just wanted to be besties with Jackie Chan, and he wouldn’t give me the time of day unless I was opening bottles of Domaine Ponsot for him. I can’t afford Ponsot. Jackie Goddam Chan can afford Ponsot; he should have been serving me old bottles of Burgundy! Jackie Chan ruined my life. It’s like I’m Chris Tucker. Just another black guy going to jail.

Before you sentence me, Your Honor, I want to tell you that I am deeply and sincerely sorry for selling fraudulent wine to rich assholes. This was never my intent. My intent was to become a rich asshole. On the backs of wine connoisseurs. This is a time-honored tradition in the wine business, Your Honor, one that every auction house in America relies upon. One often hears that wine snobs drink labels. Well, I gave them labels. And damned fine labels, if I do say so myself. They fooled even the best wine experts at the most prestigious auction houses. Though that’s a bit like fooling a kid into thinking he’s got quarters in his ears. What else would explain the existence of the quarters? Where would they have come from except his ears? It seems too good to be true, but the eyes don’t lie. Magic quarters, magic cellars—it’s easy to fool those who want to be duped. That’s not fraud, Your Honor, that’s illusion! They can claim they were fooled, as the auction houses did, but what validity does that argument have when the five-year-old next to them sees right through it?

When I first moved to Los Angeles I didn’t have any friends. Yes, this is hard to believe given my natural charisma, but I swear it’s true. I was lonely. But then I discovered wine. What a lucky break! It turns out that almost everyone who is involved in wine, who passionately follows and collects wine, is a lonely loser. And the worst kind of lonely loser, a drunk lonely loser. Sure, they have lots of tastings to attend, and they have all kinds of internet chat rooms, and they have this little wine community, but, really, they’re just a bunch of lonely people desperately seeking some kind of attention and admiration, like puppies in the animal shelter relentlessly wagging their tails and licking strangers’ hands trying to find a home. But if you take one home, what does he do? He shits on your carpet. I’d found my people.

It didn’t take long before I was the toast of the wine world. All I had to do was open rare and expensive bottles of wine for my new friends, praise their discerning palates, laugh at their tired jokes, and I was in big demand. “Oh,” I’d say, “I’d only open this magnum of 100 Point wine for people who can appreciate it!” They’d all look humble and smug, nod their heads at my common sense, and then loudly proclaim the wine to be the finest wine they’d ever tasted. My credentials were quickly established. Everyone knew I had a great palate because I admired theirs. Lonely people are so easy to manipulate.

But, Your Honor, what harm was I doing? I never said the wines were real. Honest. I just showed them the labels. The rest, as always happens in wine tasting, they made up in their heads. I would open wine bottles they knew to be worth tens of thousands of dollars, had they been real, I’d do this three or four nights a week, and when they asked where I got all of these rare wines, I’d just say, “My cellar.” No one ever saw “my cellar,” or even asked to see “my cellar.” They didn’t care if the wines were authentic. I guarantee you, Your Honor, even after my unfair conviction, those same guys are still bragging to their friends that they’ve tasted ’47 Cheval Blanc that was direct from the Chateau. Yeah, Chateau Gullible.

Once I knew the wine business is populated with the lonely, it just got easier. But am I responsible for people not seeing what is right in front of them? It was just like selling a car, or a house, “as is.” That’s no crime. Or if it is, it doesn’t deserve a harsh sentence. I just consigned wines to Acker Merrill “as is.” I mean, I’d had lunch with people in their wine fraud department, asked them lots of “innocent” questions about how they spotted fake wines, all of which they answered in depth. I did everything but confess, when I look back. I mean, let’s say you sell large loads of fertilizer for a living and a guy shows up in a windowless van and asks you all about how dangerous it might be to carry a ton of fertilizer around in his windowless van that he parks in front of the local IRS, would you tell him how to make a bomb? Acker Merrill told me how to make bombs. Are any of them going to trial?

I’m the victim here, Your Honor. I did nothing but spread inebriation and joy. I gave happiness to some of the saddest and loneliest people on the planet—wine collectors. I fulfilled countless of their wine wet dreams. But that’s the thing about lonely losers, they can’t ever leave happiness alone. They pick at it and pick at it until it bleeds, and when they found out it bled money, they got mad. Now they want to kill the messenger. And I’m that poor messenger. My message to them was simple. Stop taking the joy out of wine, assholes. Wine isn’t about rarity, and labels, and stupid numerical scores given by people as easily fooled as you are, and how much money you spent on 25 ounces of yeast excrement. Wine is about genuine passion and pleasure, and not the gratification of your miserable, rich prick ego. I think I delivered that message to the wine world loudly and clearly. I should be thanked, not punished.

But I accept the will of the lonely losers, as they accepted mine for a brief time. I ask only that you show me the leniency and forgiveness I deserve, Your Honor. And fuck that Jackie Chan.


23 comments:

Daniel said...

"Yeast Excrement" is the most wonderful phrase...or perhaps a great name for a band.

what is scary about your post this morning is that it is so dead on that it is almost not funny. but then again it's only funny because it's true.

happy monday!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Daniel,
"Yeast excrement" isn't original to me, I don't think, but it's a suitable phrase for the alcohol, which, after all, is why we really drink wine. But it would be a good name for band.

Con men, like Rudy, always rely upon the vanity and sad little egos of those they fool. Rudy just wasn't a very good con man because he played to his own ego and vanity, too, and that's where he failed. Those who were taken in pretend it could have happened to anyone, but that's not true. They chose to believe what they wanted to believe, and that's where the con man wins.

Rudy deserves jail time. But so do others, namely those who vouched for his fakes' authenticity. But they're mostly rich assholes, and they don't go to jail much.

Samantha Dugan said...

Ron My Love,

That "Could have happened to anyone" load of excrement is utter nonsense to me, and I've heard it over and over again being here in LA. You and I have talked about this before but I met Rudy exactly twice, the first time he was trying to get us to join his table, the one studded with magnums of Cristal and Dom, the second time I was at The Wine Hotel, his spot with Paul and they were popping, pouring and pushing away from bottles so rare some people never get to even see a bottle (and who knows if there were what they said they were...and who cares) and both times I felt this cold, unsavory slime envelop me just being around him....he was no good and saturated with bullshit to me, you could smell the fraud on the guy. If people fell for his crap it was because they were greedy, needy or just plain clueless. The only thing I'm shocked by is the fact that he's not giving up who worked with him....that just doesn't seem like him. Oh well, fuck him and Jackie Chan! I love you!!

David Fish said...

Ron,
I don't remember what the line is about life imitating art (or something), but today your satire walked/staggered/crawled the fuzzy blurry line between truth and fiction. That is a hard target, and you nailed it first time! Bravo!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
I'm not sure anyone worked with Rudy directly, that is, was completely in on it. I haven't read enough about the case, or read the trial transcript, but with the FBI snooping around, it would have been hard for him to conceal a co-conspirator. He ain't the sharpest tool. There are a lot of folks who should have known better, a lot of famous folks, and supposed wine experts, a lot of people who should bear some of the blame, but I don't think there were any full partners in the crimes. But what do I know?

And, really, the whole thing is a big black mark against wine loving in general. We are all judged by the assholes who partied with Rudy, those shitheads who think money makes them experts at everything, think they can buy wine knowledge, class and prestige. I've enrolled them all in the Go Fuck Yourself Club™.

I love you, too.

David,
Thank you. Those are extremely generous words, and much appreciated.

There's been a lot of jeering at Rudy, by other fakes like Alderpated, but the truth is Rudy is a mirror and reflects our own wine geek, needy, egotistical faces back at us. Rudy doesn't deserve sympathy, but, in real ways, Bill Koch has done twenty times the evil in the world Rudy has done. He'll never stand trial, not on the earthly plain. And the auction houses that went along and had to have known the wines were fake, unless they'll admit to being the stupidest people in the wine biz, where is the jeering at them as they set new records every auction?

This is what satire can do, I like to think. Give the finger to power, tell truth in entertaining ways, make people laugh in order to make them see. I have a very humble gift, but there are times I'm quite proud of it.

Marcia Macomber said...

Loved it! Concur on the "yeast excrement" commentary. Spot on.

I'm not surprised, Samantha, that your b.s. meter is ultra-strong. It's the way you're wired. Good for you!

And ohhhhhhhhhhhh, those Koch brothers... Don't get me started. They sure have done some serious damage....

It will be interesting to see in the future if auction houses take anything more than hits to their reputations (if at all) in future swindles. ...It's a bit like Moody's giving all those derivatives A+ ratings...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
It was my friend Chris Kassel, years ago when the Rudy scandal started, who coined the absolutely perfect phrase, "Koch suckers." The rare joke that I wish I'd written. It works on every level.

Auction houses have lied about provenance for years and years. And I'm sure not only about wine. Wouldn't it be nice if one of their ex-employees wrote a tell-all? Though it wouldn't matter, people would still attend wine auctions looking to buy rare wines to impress their friends. Or to peddle to unsuspecting restaurant clientele. And so it goes...

We'll see how the judge sentences Rudy. He's nobody, he's a foreigner, he had lousy lawyers, I expect the they'll throw the Wine Bible at him.

Thomas said...

"Koch suckers"

Fabulous.

Ron,

I find that I can't add anything to what you and what others have said--how's that for a first?


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thomas,
Yeah, Chris is very funny. I'd encourage everyone to read his posts, which aren't frequent enough for me, but when the new ones pop up on my Blog Roll I always read them.

I'm actually certain you do have something to say on this subject. But I shall take it as a high compliment that I've left you speechless.

I read that Rudy had written a personal appeal to the judge in the case. I tried to imagine what that might read like from a satiric standpoint. This is what appeared.

Lately, it seems I've left most of my common taters speechless.

Bill Klapp said...

Great piece, Ron. A felony is a felony is a felony, but on the other hand, one cannot imagine less sympathetic victims than the schmucks that Rudy took for a ride. It is only slightly better for the world of fine wine to have Rudy stopped than to have the egos of his pompous marks popped and to have them publicly humiliated. Your effort grasped all of that, and with yucks to boot!

Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...

In the Watergate scandal, the famous phrase that entered our lexicon was "Follow the money."

If Rudy is not the wealthy scion of a Chinese or Indonesian family . . . then where did the money come from to fund his wine purchases in the millions of dollars?

Purchases that were later "flipped."

Citing Wikipedia's entry on Rudy:

". . . consigning lots to 2 major auctions at Acker, Merral & Condit in 2006, netting $10.6 million ($12.4 million in 2014 dollars[13]) in the first and $24.7 million ($28.9 million in 2014 dollars[13]) in the second.[3] The second auction was the record for a single sale of wine at auction,[14] beating the previous record by more than $10 million.[5]" [Footnotes preserved.]

Further, where did he get his expertise in fabricating wine labels? (His efforts comprised integrating software graphics programs and computer/printer hardware. Knowledge that someone just doesn't pick up by osmosis.)

If Rudy is the inartful/inattentive/slacker con artist as portrayed by some who know him, then it seems a logical inference that he had accomplices in perpetrating his crimes.


Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...

Since Ron loathes embedded links, let me sidestep the issue by giving you an article headline you can Google.

The Drinks Business
(February 10, 2014):

"De Villaine: 'It's Hard to Believe Acker Didn't Have Doubts' "

By Lucy Shaw

Thomas said...

Ron,

Of course, I have much to say about cons, I grew up on the streets of Brooklyn before it became BROOKLYN--and since I've given 30 years to the wine biz, I have even more to say about egos.

You say it better, however.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Bill,
The quest for "unicorns," those legendary and rare wines usually unobtainable by hook so you need crook, is what fuels the fake wine market. Most of the folks who finally catch those unicorns haven't the vaguest idea if what they're drinking is legit. They believe what they want to believe, just as IPOB folks do, just as "natural" wine folks do--they are the low hanging fruit for con men to harvest.

As I said, no matter what, those who were taken, from Burghound to the douchiest of LA wine collectors, will still believe they tasted those rare wines, and that the ones in their cellars are real, too. It's the beauty of the mark. It's better to believe in fantasy than admit you're a chump.

Bob,
Rudy had money in the beginning. He owned a big house in San Marino, and bought a lot of very expensive wine from me personally, and paid in cash. That he's broke now is a result of his burning through his money, family money or not, and living a lifestyle he ultimately couldn't afford. Or so I would guess. I don't know, and don't care.

Koch spent a fortune having him investigated, the FBI watched him for quite a while before they raided his home, don't you think a co-conspirator would have been found? Nah, you're smarter than them.

Acker had doubts. But money tends to soothe doubts. They're his co-conspirators. Rudy made the crack, Acker found the ego junkies to sell it to.

Thomas,
Now you're connin' me.

Marcia Macomber said...

Perhaps no one's written a tell-all post-auction house employment b/c their employment (and separation) agreements are legally tighter than the wares they peddle...

Someone's gotta be working on (and shopping) a script in LaLa land on this...

Thomas said...

Yeah, Marsha. Thy can name the movie "Sleazeways".

Thomas said...

Oops, Marcia...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
Oh, I've no doubt that's true. Doesn't everyone sign a confidentiality agreement these days? The auction houses would be crazy not to insist on them, given their line of work, and not just with wine. But, then, there are always those Whistle Blower laws, so, come on auction people, talk.

That said, I'm sure most of the deals are legit. But just how hard they try to uncover obvious fakes, how absolutely upfront they are about provenance in some cases, that's where Caveat better damn well Emptor.

As for a film, well, Thomas has a nice name for it, but it's a rather dreary subject, with a very boring villain, and victims you'd love to see murdered. It's a subject too close to Hollywood's dead heart.

renzo said...

"This is what satire can do, I like to think. Give the finger to power, tell truth in entertaining ways, make people laugh in order to make them see."

Along with all the other styles you employ to great effect... the satire is a valuable commodity. Just because it's free doesn't mean that someone isn't paying a price (at least I would hope so).

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Renzo,
Folks almost don't trust satire that isn't free, as money does often equate in peoples minds to corruptibility. If my words sting the right folks in the right places, that would be rewarding for me. But I'm a humble little blogger with a tiny little readership, so my words bounce off my targets like BB's off an aircraft carrier.

But at least I'm having fun.

Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...

Ron,

I met Rudy in the early 2000s when he was living in an apartment in South Pasadena, and patronizing the wine store wine bar I was running on weekends.

(Post-dating his Burbank apartment during his undergraduate studies at Cal State University Northridge.)

The Arcadia house where the FBI arrested him came later when his mother joined him. The Bel Air mansion under renovation came much, much later.

To have assembled enough wine to have "flipped" it for $34 million at two Acker auctions projects at least $10-plus million in cash purchases to have assembled that cache.

I suspect his co-conspirators were Asian folks who wire transfer bankrolled him. Folks who never traveled to the U.S. to be seen in his company by the F.B.I.

~~ Bob

Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...

Marcia,

A documentary titled "Sour Grapes" is already in production, reports Decanter magazine.

Google this January 28, 2014 article headline:

"Rudy Kurniawan film goes into production"

~~ Bob

Thomas said...

Sour Grapes--a tired title that likely portends the nature of the film.