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Elderly Americans swindled out of $13 million in wine fraud

Hubbard Snitchler & Parzianello

Most fraudsters use some kind of lure to attract people to their schemes. The FBI recently announced arrests and criminal charges in a fraud scheme based on alleged fine wines; the perpetrators of the scheme used English accents and fake names with an English ring to them to fraudulently attract $13 million in money from 150 elderly Americans.

The scam

The alleged perpetrators of the fraud worked on two continents, making cold calls to potential victims in Europe and in the United States. The callers said they had access to a supply of rare wines and whiskeys that could be purchased and resold at an enormous profit. The callers posed as whiskey and wine experts and used fake names such as “Eliot Stewart” to convince potential investors that the offer was genuine.

An 89-year-old man living in Ohio spent $300,000 to “purchase” bottles of rare dessert wine and a storage locker in France. A 70-year-old spent $85,000 after being told of a 40% return earned in the Chinese wine market.

Poking holes in the fraud

Three companies, Windsor Jones, Charles Winn and Vintage Whiskey Casks, used aggressive and deceptive tactics, according to investigators. Windsor Jones claimed to sell “Luxury fine wines from Bordeaux” on its website.

The company also used a video allegedly made by a master sommelier, who denied allowing the company to use any of his “stuff.” Vintage Whiskey Casks generated all of its revenue from American investors. The company’s corporate records identified an individual living in England as the head of the business.

When the 89-year-old man in Ohio became suspicious after receiving a number of excuses when he attempted to reclaim his investment, he reported the case to the local police. The police then referred the matter to the FBI.

The FBI was bled to place an informant inside two of the three companies involved in the fraud. The FBI found a second informant who agreed to work his way into the three companies. This informant told the FBI that the Englishman at the head of the scheme was traveling to Ohio, where he planned to attend a meeting of potential investors. After the meeting was held, the suspect was arrested by the FBI on June 14.

Sound legal support

The leader of the scheme posted a bond of $50,000 and was released. This case shows how easily supposedly sophisticated individuals can be swindled out of their wealth using the simplest of pretexts. Some of the potential victims of the fraud were saved from loss by cautions from the FBI telling them to cancel their checks.

Other victims were not so lucky; their money is gone. Anyone who has lost money under similar circumstances may wish to consult an experienced business attorney for an analysis of the facts and an opinion about the likelihood of recovering lost funds through a civil lawsuit.

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