March 11, 2012

FBI Arrests Collector in Wine Fraud After Investigation by the FBI Art Crime Team

LOS ANGELES - Museum Security Network disbursed the headline, "FBI Art (?) Crime Team - Wine collector accused of fraud, trying to sell fake French vintages." According to an article on The Los Angeles Times blog by Andrew Blankenstein, a resident of Arcadia, a suburb in the San Gabriel Valley, was arrested March 8 "by FBI agents assigned to the Los Angeles office after a years-long investigation by the FBI Art Crime Team".

The FBI's National Stolen Art File Search categorizes objects from "Altar" to "Wine Cooler" and includes traditional fine art (paintings, watercolors) and other valuables such as musical instruments, guns, prayer mats, and even ice pails.  The FBI's Top Ten Art Crimes range from Iraqi Looted and Stolen Artifacts to Theft from the E. G. Bührle Collection, Zurich.

In the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime (Spring 2011), James Charney reviewed The Billionaire's Vinegar (Three Rivers Press, New York, 2009) which discusses the issue of authenticating fine wines.

In the most recent issue of The Journal of Art Crime (Fall 2011), Noah Charney interviews Stuart George, an expert on fine wines, and the crimes committed in the wine world.
Noah Charney: How frequently do you suspect that fraud takes place in the world of high-priced wines? 
Stuart George: Leaving aside the 1787 Lafite mentioned above in "The Billionaire's Vinegar), I have never knowingly seen a “genuine fake” bottle of fine wine. Nonetheless, merchants’ and auctioneers’ outrage at fake wine is like Claude Rains’ shock at learning that there was gambling at Rick’s place in Casablanca. Anything that is valuable is in danger of being faked. 
More attention is being paid to preventing fraudulent wine than ever before, which suggests that as the Hong Kong/China market has gone supernova, the amount of fakes and forgeries being sold has increased significantly.According to some sources, fake wines flow in and out of Hong Kong like the cheap and illegal Irish reprints of books that allegedly flooded the British market in the eighteenth century. I was told that China’s government officially deplores the country’s inexorable production of fakes but in practice turns a blind eye.