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Kurniawan challenges wine fraud conviction

Lawyers for Rudy Kurniawan – the man sentenced to 10 years in prison for wine fraud in 2014 after being found guilty a year earlier – have launched an appeal against his conviction that could prompt a retrial.

Kurniawan is eight months in to a 10-year prison sentence (Photo: Creative Commons)

Filing papers to a New York City Court of Appeal on Monday, Kurniawan’s legal team argue that the FBI broke the law when they searched his home, uncovering evidence that was eventually used to convict him.

They say that the evidence – which included fake Bordeaux labels and bottling equipment – should not have been presented to the court. If successful in their appeal, it could trigger a retrial or possibly early release.

Wine Spectator reports that Kurniawan, who is currently around eight months in to a record 10-year sentence for his conspiracy to commit wine fraud, is arguing that his home was illegally searched by the FBI when he was first arrested in March 2012.

His legal team, led by Jerry Mooney, are also making two other related claims, namely that the results of these searches should not have been included in the trial, and that the charges against their client were improperly combined, making it unduly difficult for the jury to find him innocent.

Furthermore, they argue that the financial costs incurred by the people that Kurniawan defrauded have been greatly exaggerated, resulting in a harsher sentence.

The issue of the supposedly illegal search of Kurniwan’s home came up in the initial pre-trial motion in 2012. His defence argued that when FBI officers came to arrest him, they performed a sweep of his home to ensure there were no threats. During this sweep they were presented with an obvious fake wine operation, complete with Bordeaux labels and bottling equipment.

However, they did not have a warrant to search the property until later that day, so evidence seen by officers should not have been used in the trial as they were discovered in a manner that breached his constitutional rights under the fourth amendment, according to the Kurniawan team at the time.

Despite the judge ruling in favour of the authorities in the initial trial, saying that agents “acted in good faith”, this argument is now being used as the main thrust of Kurniawan’s current appeal.

If the appeal is successful, Kurniawan could soon be released as it is possible judges may see the four years he will have spent in detention as enough. If this was to happen, he would be deported to his native Indonesia, according to Wine Spectator. 

Judges have until July 10 to respond.

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