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Wednesday 22 October 2014

Koch wine fraud case turns personal

3rd April, 2013 by Rupert Millar

The wine fraud case being played out in a New York court room between rival billionaires turned personal this week as a former servant of Eric Greenberg took the stand against his one-time employer.

bill koch

Bill Koch arriving at the court in Manhattan where the trial is taking place

Jaime Cortes worked for Eric Greenberg for four years as his personal chef and manager of his home in Ross, California.

According to Forbes, he took the stand as a witness against his former employer after reading about the case in The Wine Spectator and offering his services to Bill Koch’s legal team – the billionaire wine collector is suing Greenberg for US$320,000.

Although there is some doubt as to whether or not this breaches a confidentiality agreement he signed is in question – he claims he does not remember signing it.

Koch is not recompensing him for being a witness but is said to be covering his legal fees.

Sitting in the dock, Cortes called Greenberg a “tyrant” and admitted calling him an “asshole” in an email.

He apparently held the jurors in rapt attention with the details of running Greenberg’s homes and also noted his boss’s distress after a visit from Sotheby’s international head of wine, Serena Sutcliffe MW (who had earlier given evidence via a video link), which had revealed some of the wines in his cellar to be counterfeit.

A total of 108 bottles were identified as potential fakes that had been sourced from a suspect wine supplier known as Royal Wine Merchants.

Greenberg apparently reached a settlement with the company in 2004. Cortes said he did not know how much money changed hands but that Greenberg was allowed to keep the bottles in question.

Crucially he added that when he asked for one of the bottles as a trophy, Greenberg refused saying: “What they did to me, I’m gong to do to somebody else.”

It is this point that Koch’s legal team are pushing, the fact that Greenberg knew the bottles he consigned to two Zachys auctions between 2004 and 2005 were fakes.

In the cross examination, Greenberg’s lawyers, headed by Frank Cialone, tried to discredit Cortes by portraying him as a spurned employee.

It was also noted that his testimony was far more polished and theatrical than his 2010 deposition, and that the two accounts conflicted on certain points.

The case continues.

 

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