Vallejo wine warehouse arsonist sentenced to 27 years

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A federal judge in Sacramento today sentenced a 63-year-old Sausalito man to 27 years in prison and ordered him to pay $70.3 million in restitution related to the October 2005 fire at a Vallejo warehouse that destroyed an estimated $200 million to $250 million in wine.

U.S. district judge Lawrence Karlton sentenced Mark Anderson on 19 counts, one of arson, four of interstate transportation of fraudulently obtained property, nine of mail fraud, one of use of a fictitious name and four of tax evasion.

He pleaded guilty in November 2009, admitting that he set the fire, had been embezzling wine from his clients for many years and failed to report more than $800,000 from sales of embezzled wine, evading more than $290,000 in taxes. Sentencing was delayed as he tried unsuccessfully to withdraw the plea, according to prosecutors.

"This was not just a devastating loss to the wine collectors who were clients of the defendant, this was a tragic and historic loss to the wine industry," said prosecutor Benjamin Wagner. "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. These businesses lost their entire ability to generate revenue for up to two years, which is roughly the time it takes to produce a bottle of wine."

The Oct. 12, 2005, fire at the Wines Central warehouse destroyed or damaged 4.5 million bottles of wine, primarily from 95 North Coast wineries, stored in the 240,000-square-foot converted Mare Island naval base bunker.

The fire came one month after a Marin County court charged Mr. Anderson with 10 counts of embezzlement after a number of his clients reported their wine was missing. Investigators said he gave excuses for why wines were not available when clients asked to get bottles back or verify storage. Those loses ranged from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That case was put on hold since the federal case was filed in March 2007.

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