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Wine arsonist sentenced to 27 years

A Californian businessman convicted of destroying more than 4.5 million bottles of wine in a warehouse fire has been sentenced to 27 years in prison.

Mark C. Anderson

A federal judge in Sacramento also ordered Mark C. Anderson to pay US$70.3 million to customers who lost their wine collections in the October 2005 blaze.

Anderson, 63, stored wine for 95 vintners and dozens of private collectors for a fee at the Wines Central warehouse in Vallejo, where he rented space.

Prosecutors say he started the fire to cover up the fact that he had been embezzling clients’ wine for years.

Winemakers from Napa and Sonoma counties stored wine inside the warehouse – a former submarine repair facility.

The building had no sprinklers, meaning the fire spread quickly. It heated the inside of the warehouse to around 2,000 degrees, cooking the wine inside.

Anderson, 63, came under immediate suspicion because he was at the facility the day the fire started, and because the blaze originated in his section, sparked by gasoline-soaked rags.

Anderson, who owned a wine storage business named Sausalito Cellars, had been storing some of his wines at Wines Central but removed them after being asked to do so by business managers several months before the fire.

The fire injured two firefighters and caused US$250m worth of damage at the warehouse, with some wineries losing entire vintages. Its owner never reopened.

In 2009, Anderson pleaded guilty to 19 counts, including arson, mail fraud and tax evasion. Sentencing was delayed because of his unsuccessful attempt to withdraw the guilty plea.

damage caused by the fire

“This was not just a devastating loss to the wine collectors who were clients of the defendant, it was a tragic and historic loss to the wine industry,” Sacramento US. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said.

“Most of the victim wineries were small family-run businesses that housed their complete inventory at Wines Central because they had no storage capacity of their own.

“This crime caused a great deal of financial and emotional distress on those small business owners and their employees. The sentence properly reflects that suffering,” Wagner added.

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