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Seizure of Evidence at Wine Seller’s Home Ruled Legal

FBI agents’ seizure of evidence at the home of a California man accused of selling more than $1.3 million in counterfeit vintage wines was legal and can be used at trial, a judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in New York said today that the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents didn’t violate Rudy Kurniawan’s constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure last year when they gathered the evidence at his home in Arcadia, California.

Prosecutors said Kurniawan, an Indonesian national, had a “laboratory for creating counterfeit wine” in his home, including thousands of printed wine labels for many of the world’s most expensive wines, such as Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Chateau Petrus. Kurniawan was arrested March 8 and accused of consigning at least 84 counterfeit bottles of Burgundy to a New York auction house.

Kurniawan’s lawyer had sought to bar the use of evidence seized by the FBI during the search. The evidence included a wooden crate labeled “Joseph Drouhin,” a producer of wines from Burgundy, France, which FBI Special Agent Oliver Farache said in a sworn statement was in “plain view” and “just inside the threshold of the subject residence’s front door.”

‘Detailed Account’

“The detailed account of Kurniawan’s counterfeiting activities in the complaint, which already connected his home to evidence of wine counterfeiting, when combined with just a brief description of the materials piled up against Kurniawan’s front door, establish probable cause to uphold the warrant,” Berman said today.

Michael Proctor, a lawyer for Kurniawan, had sought to suppress the evidence, alleging that the FBI agents lacked probable cause to enter the home. Agents said that after they arrested Kurniawan, they saw wine bottles visible from the front doorway.

“The suggestion is nonsense,” Proctor said in court papers. “That he had bottles of wine -- even French wine -- visible from his doorway cannot establish probable cause. He is a wine dealer and aficionado, and there is nothing unusual or noteworthy about the presence of cases of wine in his home.”

Berman directed Kurniawan to return to court on Feb. 14 for a pretrial conference.

Billionaire wine collector William Koch sued Kurniawan in 2009 in Los Angeles state court, claiming he had sold him phony vintages.

The case is U.S. v. Kurniawan, 12-mj-606, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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