A Multi-Part Feature on the trial of Rudy Kurniawan, including the transcripts, testimony and evidence that put the largest wine counterfeiter of our time behind bars.
THE TRIAL - PART 8
Day 5: Friday 13th December (continued)
Witness: David Parker
The Government called David Parker. Parker, from Vancouver, Washington, owns three companies, two that sell wine and one that publishes information. Brentwood Wine Company, started in 1998, is an internet auction house for rare wine. Benchmark Wine Group, started in 2002, is a wholesale and retail seller of fine and rare wine. Before that, he headed up engineering for a number of high tech firms, most recently Tektronix in Oregon.
Parker confirmed that he knows Rudy Kurniawan. He has met him at several wine events, and he is a customer of both Brentwood and Benchmark. He confirmed that he had sold Rudy some DRC wines.
Hernandez showed David Parker a document, which he recognised as an invoice, dated June 2006, for the purchase of five bottles of Romanée-Conti 1962. The invoice listed a number of abbreviations that gave the condition of the wine: 2.5 inches BC being the ullage, 2 ½ inches below the cork; CC meaning corroded capsule; BSL being bin-stained label, and excellent colour meaning that the wine has excellent colour when lit from behind.
Parker confirmed that he personally measured the ullage. He also confirmed that he recognised Exhibit 33-4, the check-in sheet that they use to record various conditions when they look at a wine when they take ownership of it, and that these notes relate to the wines in 33-2, that were sold to Rudy Kurniawan in June 2006.
David Parker then identified the serial numbers for one of bottles he sold to Rudy: 07162, and explained that his notation meant it had a lightly corroded capsule, bin-stained label and 2 ½ inches of ullage, all of which meant that it was worth about half of what a bottle in excellent condition would be. He confirmed that he sold Rudy the five 1962 Romanée-Conti listed in this invoice, as well as two he bought via Brentwood Wine Company. Parker confirmed that he had not seen any of these bottles since selling them until the day before his testimony. However, he saw in an Acker Merrall & Condit (AMC) catalogue two of the bottles with the same serial number as the bottles he sold Rudy. The fill levels, however, were significantly higher than on the bottles he sold.
(These were the bottles that were sold at auction to Eddie Milstein, but returned by him to AMC over “a question of authenticity”, as testified earlier by Truly Hardy.)
Parker confirmed that the three bottles in the exhibits 6-1 to 6-3 matched three serial numbers in the booking in sheet in Exhibit 33-4. These were 07162 (6-1), 07169 (6-3), and 07166 (6-2). Parker confirmed these were the bottles he sold, and that when he sold them, they had 2 ½ inches of ullage. Jason Hernandez, with Judge Berman’s permission, handed David Parker a ruler to measure the ullage in the exhibit bottles. He confirmed the following ullages:
Original ullage (in.)
Exhibit ullage (in.)
Jason Hernandez then asked if Parker, who confirmed he was familiar with reconditioning, saw any evidence that the bottles had been reconditioned by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. David Parker replied that the opposite was true – they would not look as they did if they had been reconditioned by DRC. They would have new capsules on them, they would have a sticker saying they had been reconditioned at the Domaine, and he believed they would have had new labels put on them, although he was not certain of that point. He also noted that someone else reconditioning the wine destroyed its value, in his opinion.
David Parker also confirmed that the only way the level could go up was by someone adding wine,to the bottle.
David Parker, cross-examination
Mooney then started the cross-examination for the defence, by noting that Parker had not been able to find the booking in note (Exhibit 33-4) when he originally spoke with the FBI, and adding that there had also seemed to be some confusion about serial numbers. Parker replied that he had not been able to locate the file originally, but that as he and his staff located items, he provided these to the FBI. He also did not remember exactly which serial numbers were provided. He emphasised that the note Mooney was looking at did not specify Brentwood or Benchmark but rather indicated that four of the bottles were 2 ½ inches below cork. He confirmed that this listed all seven of the bottles – five from Benchmark and two from Brentwood – that had been sent to Rudy Kurniawan. He confirmed that he was certain he measured in inches, not centimetres. He also confirmed that he writes down the ullage on the high value bottles, where it’s an issue. He confirmed that all the bottles had capsules when they were sold, and he believed they were uncut. (Exhibit 6-2 has no capsule; the other two are cut.)
David Parker confirmed that he met Rudy Kurniawan in 2001, possibly earlier. When he first met him, it was not clear how big a buyer of wines he was, but over time he developed the reputation for being a big buyer. This was by reputation however – he bought relatively few bottles from David Parker’s businesses. He placed one order for $420,000 that they brokered for a very large amount, but never paid it, so that deal was never consummated. Mooney suggested that they had been in dispute with him for a number of years over this; Parker replied that he had dropped this years ago.
David Parker, redirect
Jason Hernandez redirected David Parker. He asked if Parker had ever bought wine consigned to an auction house, which Parker replied that he had. He did know that auction houses sometimes cut capsules to look at the corks.
Hernandez then also asked Parker to recall the photo in the AMC catalogue, and Parker confirmed that some of the bottles were visible, and others were obscured by other bottles, including, he believed, the three in Exhibits 6-1, 6-2 and 6-3. He did, however, recognise some of the other serial numbers, where visible, as being some of the seven total bottles he had sold to Rudy.
Hernandez then referred to the order that Mooney spoke about, for $420,000, and asked what sort of wines these were. David Parker replied that they were old, primarily European, on the lower end of value for wines of that age, “not necessarily in keeping with the level of wine that Kurniawan generally poured or appeared to generally offer out”. They were either good names but poor vintages, or good vintages but poor names.