Former Napa wine boss jailed for $1m fraud

4th September, 2014 by Lauren Eads

A former Napa wine executive has been jailed for nearly three years for embezzling nearly US$1 million from his employer.

3763879941_44ea9d4c97_zMartin “Chris” Edwards, former vice president and general manager of the WineTasting Network, pleaded guilty to fraud in April having been accused of embezzling $900,000 from his employer between May 2010 and October 2012.

The scam involved 49-year-old Edwards making a series of payments to a fictitious company, Dufrane Compliance Trust, for fake services with the funds instead deposited into his own accounts.

Edwards also failed to declare the extra revenues on his federal tax returns.

He was sentenced on Tuesday to two years and nine months in federal prison, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, and was also ordered to repay $894,222 to the WineTasting Network.

Edwards, who had previously run twice for  Napa City Council candidate, was indicted in May 2013 but was only arrested in January 2014 when he was tracked down by officers having fled to Mexico.

Prosecutors said Edwards had carried out a “calculated pattern of deception” in court papers. In arguing for a lower sentence of 20-months, his defence lawyer said Edwards was a community activist and supporter of charitable causes who had suffered from depression and a bipolar disorder for many years.

Seth Chazin, Edward’s attorney, said his client had suffered from chronic depression, a bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol addictions.

As reported by the Napa Valley Register, Chazin said: “It was a sad case in many ways as Chris is a great guy and has done much for many in the Napa area and beyond. He has helped raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for umpteen charities, and has been involved in the community for many years.

“Much of this arose from an untreated bi-polar condition, depression and other mental health issues, combined with substance abuse issues.”

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