NZ merchant jailed for wine fraud

New Zealand wine merchant Simon Mickleson has been jailed after scamming clients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Simon Mickleson

Mickleson was sentenced today in Auckland to two years and four months in prison after earlier pleading guilty to 16 counts of fraud.

Judge Grant Fraser described the Mickleson as “sophisticated” and said there was still over NZ$540,000 owed to his victims, a sum never to be paid back as Mickleson was declared bankrupt last week.

Among Mickleson’s vicitms were a top New Zealand auction house and senior figures in the legal industry, including the lawyer to the Todd Property Group, owned by New Zealand’s richest family.

“Over 20 years of experience and expertise is effectively down the drain,” the disgraced merchant’s lawyer, Grant Illingworth QC, told Auckland District Court.

Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey said Mickleson deserved a term of imprisonment.

Mickleson, 43, worked as a wine consultant at Auckland auction house Webb’s while running his own business, Fine Wines International.

In actions remeniscent of Indonesian wine collector Rudy Kurniawan, who is currently on trial in New York for four counts of fraud, the court heard that Mickleson faked vintages by doctoring wine labels.

He also stole credit cards, took money for wine he didn’t have, and sold cases of old and rare wines he didn’t own for thousands of dollars.

One of the wines Mickleson tried to fraudulently sell, Château Lafite Rothschild 2000

“Some were clients of the auction house, some clients of yours and some were your friends. It doesn’t get more serious in terms of a breach of trust than that,” Judge Fraser said.

Webb’s managing director Neil Campbell described Mickleson to The New Zealand Herald newspaper as “the worst kind of try-hard”.

“Simon had this idea that being perceived as rich and wealthy made you a better person. He was always seeking acknowledgement of prestige and wealth,” Campbell said.

Mickleson’s deceit began in 2007 after he promised Auckland surgeon Jim Shaw NZ$400,000 worth of high-end wines.

The wines never arrived and over the next two years he compensated Shaw by taking money from other clients.

In October 2007, Hong Kong-based Joong Sheng Giauw paid Mickleson NZ$66,313.08 for 36 bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild 2000, which also never turned up.

In 2008 he asked school friend Julius Fox to help finance a NZ$99,000 order of French wines for Dr Darren Reed, who he claimed owned the private Ascot Hospital.

Fox contributed NZ$29,000 but the deal never went through. Police investigations revealed there was no such person as Dr Reed.

On another occasion, Mickleson changed the labels from two cases of 2001 Château Lafite to pass the bottles off as the sought-after 1982 vintage.

He tried to sell 24 fakes for NZ$98,000, but the buyers pulled out after spotting the doctored labels.

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