Monday, August 29, 2016

The Confessions of John Fox of Premier Cru

"The man behind a "Ponzi wine scheme" that bilked customers of a high-end Berkeley wine store out of at least $45 million pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to one count of wire fraud, admitting to spending his ill-gotten gains on expensive cars, private golf memberships and almost $1 million on women he met online.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is recommending that Concord resident John Fox, 66, be sentenced to more than six years in prison and pay restitution to cheated customers who paid in advance for unfulfilled wine orders from the now-shuttered Premier Cru wine company."

I may have spent a little too much on pussy. It’s not like I’m the first guy who did that. In fact, you know, I spent $900,000 on pussy before I got caught, which is $899,990 more than Hugh Grant spent before he got caught. So it’s not like I’m stupid. I just like to fuck young women, and wine geeks. Hard to say which gave me more pleasure. It was sort of even. Except with the young women, I never really thought about needing protection when I fucked them.

And, really, how much different is it to spend all your excess cash on pussy instead of First Growth Bordeaux? You just do it because you can. No one really needs a cellar full of either one. It’s just a way of feeling better about yourself whether you collect great wines or great pussy. And, frankly, it’s a myth that either one gets better with age. Some guys want a vertical of Margaux, I just wanted a horizontal of LaWanda. The urge is the same. It’s just to show your buddies you can dip your dick into something rare and wet whenever you want, that money is no object. So I’m not sure why everyone is mad at me.

Let’s look at it another way. Bernie Sanders ran on a platform of taking money from the rich and then distributing their excess wealth to people in the lower class. How is that different from what I did? I figured out how to get $45 million from rich and/or stupid wine collectors and then I distributed that money to poor, working class pussy. How does Sanders get all that admiration and I get contempt, jail time, and dick warts? This country is fucked up.

I didn’t set out to scam those idiots. But, you know, they were just asking for it. I spent years and years in the wine business learning to rip off suppliers. I can’t believe I was that stupid. What a waste of time that was. I mean, brokers and distributors who sell you wine, they get pissed when you don’t pay them. They threaten you, they strong arm you, they cut you off from buying more wine from them… What kind of shitty way to do business is that? How do I pay you for the wine you delivered if I can’t get more wine to sell? If I’d had the money to pay you for the wine in the first place, I’d have written you a goddam check. But I had Ferrari payments, and I just bought a new house in an expensive neighborhood, and, well, I may have spent a little too much on pussy, so what else could I do but ask you to extend my credit? In hindsight, well, I think it took me way too long to figure out that it’s much easier in the wine business to promise shit you can’t deliver than it is to pay off your debts. That’s the very foundation of most of the wine business. I should have known that. So, yeah, that’s on me.

Another thing, wine futures are a ripoff to begin with. Not one of the girls I met online expected me to wait two years before we had sex after I paid her. There are no pussy futures, unless your woman is old school “wait until we get married.” It seems to me that any time you’re paying for something and not getting anything back for two years, you’re just looking for trouble, begging for disappointment. I mean, ask any jackass making wine how crazy that is. Putting a shit-ton of money into something and never being rewarded? That’s the very foundation of the wine business! But, I figured, why not be one of the ones getting paid upfront? So much easier.

I thought it might be hard to find people dumb enough to give me money on the promise I’d get them rare wines. I was pretty nervous the first few times. And, this might be hard to believe, but I actually intended to obtain those wines for those trusting clients! I know, even now I am amazed at how little I understand human nature. As if I were going to look at my bank accounts swollen with futures money and not spend it on muscle cars and pussy! Isn’t that what anyone would do? It’s only wine, people.

I figured out quickly that you only have to look successful for people to think you are successful. I mean, ugly is ugly. You’re ugly, there’s just no getting around that. But if you’re a fake, it’s easy to make people think you’re legit. I was the Donald Trump of wine. I built a fancy looking building with other people’s money, and then I got other people to give me more money based on the appearance of success. I fed those morons hope. Trump stole my act. Now I'm going to jail and he's going to the White House! Like that's fair. Rich people always think you can buy hope, like they think you can buy respect. And they believed the fancy Premier Cru store I built with other people's money, not what was apparent to anyone else who didn’t have some underlying lack of self-worth expressed in the need to possess unicorn wines, namely, that I was even more vain than they. Vanity is a common trait among serious wine collectors, and always easy to exploit. Frankly, you meet a guy with a gigantic wine cellar, Riedel glasses you could wear as a space helmet, sporting a Coravin, yet another lesson in self-deceit, and you can pretty much take his vanity to the bank where you keep your high-yielding pussy account. Vanity, thy name is Wai-Man.

I’m taking the fall for lifting a cool $45 Mil from a bunch of suckers, but I think there’s plenty of blame to go around. OK, so look at it this way. It’s the same as when the cops throw the pussy in jail, but let the johns off. How is this different? Those Chinese guys, those pathetic dweebs on Wineberserkers, the poor, lonely fools who answered my email blasts (something phallic about “email blast”), I’d take their money for 2009 Bordeaux futures, never deliver, and yet they’d be back in eight months to offer me money to fuck them again. I’m in business! How do I say no? They’re just as much to blame for the legal prostitution of wine futures as I am. I gave them what they wanted. And I gave it to them cheaper than the other prostitutes! I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem fair.

Well, I guess I’m a fool, thinking those guys would treat the one who fucked them with the same tenderness I gave to the pussy I may have spent a little too much on. Men. I’m pretty bitter about them.

When I was plea bargaining, I invoked my Fifth Amendment rights countless times. Something ironic about it being a fifth. But I’ve wanted to tell my side of the story, and now I have. I am to serve six and a half years in prison for using a Ponzi scheme to swindle $45 million from stupid wine people. Hey, Rudy Kurniawan got 10 years for about $20 million worth of fraud. And his scam was a lot more work! Dumb shit. And you thought I was the one busted for abusing his Koch.

And, frankly, what Rudy did made me sick to my stomach. Making fake wines. What kind of an asshole does that? I mean, it very easily could have happened that I might have sold futures on fake older Bordeaux I obtained from Rudy that I never intended to deliver! That would have me look like a real crook. And that would have been a crime.


Charlie Olken said...

I knew John Fox. John Fox was a friend of mine. I bought one round of futures from John, and fortunately, it was early in his career and he delivered.

About two months ago, I had a confrontation with my dentist. I say "confrontation" because I can assure you that it was not voluntary and I did not like it.

So, after he stuck this long needle in my mouth, and I was strapped to chair lest I escape, or it least it seemed like that, he opened up, which is unusual because usually it's me with my mouth open like a drunk dog on Fentanyl.

"Did you ever do business with John Fox?", he intoned.

Well, yes, say I and confess that I bought some Ch. Margaux futures back around 1983. Fox mismarked the price in his offer sheet, and I bought the wine. He then asked me to pay a higher price, and I told John that I was going to report him to the Hosemaster and make him infamous. So, he upped and delivered.

The dentist then went on to explain that he had paid for hundred of cases of rare wines, and while he did not put a number on it, my quick math suggests that he had over a million dollars invested. Can you believe it? My dentist listed along with all those other schmucks.

I didn't know whether to cry for the guy or run out of his office in fear that his dentistry might be as bad as his judgment.

I kind of like this dentist. He is a funny guy who happily lives the high life--except that he found out that he was allergic to wine and now does not drink. He gets high flying his plane and lounging around on his friends' fancy boats. And, of course, he tells me all this while I am bound and gagged while he sticks needles and drills in my mouth.

One could argue that he deserved what he got. After all, he is a dentist, and doesn't that say it all?

I was only a friend of John Fox for a few months until he tried to rip me off. My dentist was friends with John almost to the end. Bragged about hanging around with him.

My dear wife now wants me to change dentists. And honestly, it is true that John did screw him out of a big chunk of money. But, he still has his airplane and his girl friend--so how bad a dentist can he be?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I don't know John Fox, though I never trust anything with "Fox" in the name. I'd been chewing on this case ever since he plea bargained, but didn't really know what I'd write about it. Or if I'd write about it. So I sat down at my keyboard yesterday and just began writing. You've read the results.

I'm never sure how I feel about pieces like this. I wanted to get to some larger truth than that the guy was a crook. Wineberserkers threads have been saying that for years now, and yet he still continued to sell futures to his marks. I think that says a lot about the wine business, and the curious power that fine wines hold over rich white men. I don't think I did a very good job of lampooning that. But I do what I can.

I wanted to portray him as the scumbag he must be. Easy to do when I haven't met him. I thought about having Lo Hai Qu involved with him, but she's not for sale. I considered having Donald Trump come to his defense, but Fox is a loser now--like McCain, he got captured. I struggled with the format for the piece, then just decided I'd write a confession. This kind of bit is more about satire than actual laughs.

Thanks for your great story, Charlie! A rich dentist invested in great wines he is now allergic to makes for great Monday morning schadenfreude.

Legless in Burgundy said...

You know, it's a funny one JOhn Fox's demise. The only surprise to any grey marketeers is that it took so long.

And there is real synergy with the Kurnivian story, and mostly that people are such suckers. One of his creditors was in for close on a million...on undelivered wine. Now I can be pretty loose with my change, but a million dollars? Surely putting that kind of cash down demands some due diligence? Fox may have been a crook, but his clients were absolute fuckwits.

And again, in the same way you cannot but admire the irony of Kurnivian's hoodwinking of the great palates of the wine world, and although I am no amateur of online philandering, in our warped modern world, spending 900 k on"pussy", as you eloquently put it, just demands you shout, "Respect!" Or at least a sly smirk.

But I am most curious about what you get for 900k, or how many? I mean you kind of feel it's no surprise he didn't have time to deliver clients' wine. And how did he fit the golf in?

If anyone is interested, two pieces I put out earlier. I may appear overly sympathetic. Apologies.

Fenton said...

Lo Hai Qu would have been a perfect fit. You say she is not for sale, but that statement reflects how little you know, my dear friend, about the modern sugar daddy phenomenon on the intergnats. Young women get their rent and other living expenses paid by offering some companionship to rich, old, white guys. If you believe it, it often does not involve sex. The participating college girls--many are--do not see it as prostitution or even immoral. They would be very offended if you called it prostitution. It is a part time job that pays very, very well and involves no more flirting than a waitress job. Way better tips.
You may not realize it, but Lo has been doing this for years. That is why she doesn't demand a paycheck from the Hosemaster. She is his intern because her sugar daddies think it is cool that she knows "all about wine" and even works in the wine field.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks for chiming in. I read one of your two pieces, and it did read as a defense of Fox, which, in hindsight, you must see was misplaced sympathy. According to him, he began the Ponzi scheme in the early '90's. But I wasn't there, and I didn't know him or deal with him, so I'm just hurling turds for fun.

I don't think anyone has ever questioned the truth of P.T. Barnum's words about suckers. Why Fox did it only he knows. Why Rudy did what he did, only Rudy knows. But it seems to me the false glamour of wine is responsible. The way we worship rare wines that get high scores from the high priests of wine reviewing. How we long for their glamour to rub off on us in some way, either through the purchased affection of young women, or the admiration of others. It's never about the enjoyment of wine. It's always about the strange and unearned glamour of it, and what it can do for our egos.

It's always comforting to know that folks actually read the comments here.

Your point about women finding sugar daddies via the Intergnats is well taken. Only Lo Hai Qu would never stand for that. She wouldn't lie to a rich old guy for any amount of money. That was more my point.

And she's my intern because she genuinely loves me! I swear, she does. She can't fool me. I'm not some stupid old white guy she can wrap around her finger...hey, wait a minute.

Cris Carter said...

Ahhh, glad to have the Hosemaster back. Exactly what I needed, late on a Monday night, grapes about to invade my dreams.

During harvest I always seem to hear the staccato burst of an air pump running dry... better than the prattling of the tween somms and "Instagram Influencers." (Questioning your career choice is an annual rite of passage in Wine Production this time of year.)

So a bunch of Richers got screwed out of some money. Boohoo. I feel slightly sorry for the folks that lost money, but clearly this money wasn't that dear. Wine as an investment. Don't get me started.

Thank you, Ron.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks. I only took a week off because I was so busy I didn't really have any free time to write. This crap ain't as easy to create as I make it look. And I have another post coming on Thursday of this week in my newest capacity as a writer for the new, free Wine Advocate site. Yes! I get paid! Things are looking up for the ol' HoseMaster.

That prattle of wannabe somms chasing unicorns and posting photos of rare bottles on Instagram or SnapChat (which is like sexting for wine assholes) represents much of what drives the fools and suckers John Fox took advantage of. A Ponzi scheme needs nothing so much as it needs a constant stream of people looking to make fast money or sweet deals. It's always about vanity and ego and greed winning out over common sense. I'm not being smug because I don't buy futures, I'm simply wondering how many of the "victims" of John Fox see their own complicity in the crimes, their own nature in feeding the Ponzi beast. Not that it matters.

Have a great harvest, Cris. Thanks for being a common tater--they're getting scarcer and scarcer these days. My hits are way up, but my comments are way down. Hey, why am I complaining?! I should be grateful.

Paul Wagner said...

Total assets were listed as $5,000,000. Liabilities at $70,000,000.

You have accounted for one of those millions, spent on happy hookers. Where are the rest of the millions?

I cannot figure out how he spent over $3Million A YEAR and has nothing to show for it...

The mind boggles.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

It's an impressive amount of thievery. He stole more than Rudy but got less time in prison. So he's still got it! Still a con man, or had better lawyers, or didn't have Bill Koch as a client.

The biz needs a good scandal now and then, if only to feed the satirists. Or satirist. Or me.

Daniel said...

I guess I will never understand having so much money that you can spend thousands and not even really worry if you ever get what you paid for.
It is a world that I am glad to not be a part of, and I don't know if I should feel sorry for them or just laugh at their arrogance and stupidity.

Tom Pohorsky said...

Something overlooked in this discussion is that Premier Cru delivered a lot of wine over the decades. I bought and received a fair amount of futures starting with 1982 Bordeaux. I'm an actual working stiff, we're not talking a lot of money here. But I just want to offer a little defense of the "suckers". Fox generally eventually delivered for decades, so it wasn't totally unreasonable to fall for delays, since they had eventually come thru in the past. Certainly not defending Fox here. Nice blog post here, I got a good laugh. The strict definition of Schadenfreude doesn't preclude laughing at oneself. And sighing ...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I think everyone wanted their wine and didn't just kiss their money goodbye. And, as Tom Pohorsky points out, Mr. Fox did often make good on the wines slowly and often illegally, with other people's money used to buy the wines retail.

I think it's always wise to laugh at arrogance. I do a lot of that here.

Well, this isn't a discussion board, and satire excludes fairness and balance, but when offers are too good to be true, well, you know the rest. I'm sure he built his business on being legit, but he's been a Ponzi practitioner for more than 20 years. Bernie Madoff paid off folks too, only with other people's money, just like Fox. Crooks are born, and often play the long game, and Fox is a crook. I know you're not defending him, but trying to make us understand how he managed to scam people. But it's simply a very old con, one that almost never fails to find PT Barnum's famous band of suckers.

I guess I could have fallen victim to him had I been the sort who chased scores and unicorn wines. But a guy like Fox gives the honest and hardworking wine shop folks who sell futures a very bad name. There are worse crimes than his, but I doubt anyone feels sorry for him. Not after spending a million on internet babes.

Thank you, Tom, for contributing. I very much appreciate it.

Unknown said...

I signed in to your blog when a fellow wine writer noted how popular you were. I'm still trying to see the popularity factor in your writings. So far I only see attempts of foulmouthed humor, and struggle to see anything more than that attempt. You may have a liking of wine, and even credentials to prove it, but from what I've read over the past several weeks, that's about all I see.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Tom Truth,
Your thoughts are welcome here, but at least have the courage and dignity to use your real name. Cowardice doesn't contribute to making your comments noteworthy.

(Man, third time's a charm with typos...)

Unknown said...

Sorry, but that's what published when I signed in, possibly from an old Google site address. I'll make sure to get it deleted to make sure others don't think I'm a coward or have a lack dignity. My name is Tom Orsat, I'm a Vietnam veteran with a Presidential Citation with Oak Leaf clusters for my actions while in service to my country. I've never been a coward and never will be. As far as trying three times, well I tried to respond to your "writings" but I was trying from a company computer and couldn't get it to publish without going to shared users. As far as dignity goes, I would suggest you re-read some of your writings, proof read them for profanity and other unneeded verbiage when discussing wine. Start here.....

"I may have spent a little too much on pussy. It’s not like I’m the first guy who did that. In fact, you know, I spent $900,000 on pussy before I got caught, which is $899,990 more than Hugh Grant spent before he got caught. So it’s not like I’m stupid. I just like to fuck young women, and wine geeks. Hard to say which gave me more pleasure. It was sort of even. Except with the young women, I never really thought about needing protection when I fucked them".

Such dignity...Right?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks for identifying yourself. I'm sure you understand how many people use anonymity on the internet as a shield from behind which they can simply hurl insults. It happens a lot here, and I don't condone it. I've always used my real name, and I expect the same of people who comment. Also, thank you for your service.

I write satire, Tom. If the language offends you, then you're in the wrong place. The article is about a man who stole 50 million dollars from wine lovers, and spent a lot of it on women he met online. I was satirically writing in his voice. I wanted to make him seem the sleazebag he must be, to some degree, and choosing to use that misogynistic and foulmouthed voice was part of the point. Satire is always raucous and often obscene. That's in its DNA.

If you're disappointed in what you've found here, offended, or angry, that's OK. I don't care. And I don't mind if you never return, and I appreciate your candor. Satire isn't about dignity. It's about looking with a jaundiced eye at the human condition, about seeing truth through a different lens, about speaking truth to power or hubris or greed, or any other deadly sin. It doesn't mind its manners.

Thank you for returning and filling me in. The profanity is part of the bit. It always is in satire--think Richard Pryor and George Carlin and Lenny Bruce. I'm not in their league, but profanity was part of their game, too. My subject here isn't wine, really, my subject here is human folly with wine as a lens. I'm not your glass of Cabernet, Tom, not your cup of tea. I think both of us are fine with that.

Nate said...

Unfortunately, while many find it easy to blame the victim in a situation like this, it wasn't only super-rare, high scoring, expensive, "unicorn wines" that Fox sold. I was one of the lucky ones. I spent thousands (not millions, just thousands) with Premium Cru over the years. And although I occasionally waited 3+ years for a bottle, I got every single bottle I ever ordered. And some of those bottles were on the expensive side (e.g. >$200). But those pricey bottles were bought as an investment, not for drinking. And that has proved quite lucrative for me over the years. I've made more than I've spent, easily. I still remember buying a half case of '08 Lafite for $1200 and selling it for $5400.

But the vast majority of the bottles I ordered were $15-$40 bottles that any average joe out there might buy at the grocery store. The only difference is, because of where I live, I can't find decently drinkable wine locally. So to assume that everyone he conned was a rich fool with more money than sense is just plain false. Many of the people that he screwed were just waiting on that $400 case of Italian red that they ordered for their daughter's wedding rehearsal dinner.