Maryland man pleads guilty in up to $1.5M wine fraud case that involved sales in Napa

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A Maryland man has pleaded guilty to a federal charge related to stealing $500,000-$1.5 million in wine in a scheme that involved selling clients' stored bottles to retailers and brokers nationwide, particularly in Napa.

William Lamont Holder, 54, of Hanover, Maryland, signed the plea agreement Tuesday on a wire fraud charge related to his SAfe Harbour Wine Storage LLC business, which stored "upscale wine," primarily for private collectors and commercial establishments, prosecutors announced. He faces 18 months in federal prison if the plea deal is accepted in court.

Prosecutors said the scheme worked this way: From January 2013 through December 2017, Holder obtained clients' wine then offered it for sale to wine retailers and brokers, claiming he owned the wine. At the same time he was collecting a monthly fee from the actual wine owners for transporting of their wine to a Glen Burnie, Maryland, facility for storage — and taking in more wine.

Holder told the potential third-party buyers that he was the lawful owner of the wine, sending them inventory lists by email and facsimile machines, detailing the producer, vintage and asking price. After the buyers selected the bottles they wanted to purchase, Holder boxed and shipped the wine, and sent his bank account information.

After inspecting the shipment of wine, the buyers would either wire the money directly into Holder’s bank account or send a check. He kept the proceeds from the sales and spent it on personal expenses, prosecutors said.

This case is somewhat similar to the massive wine fraud that led to the October 2005 arson fire of a Vallejo warehouse with over $200 million worth of choice Wine Country library collections. Sausalito resident Mark Anderson was sentenced to 27 years in prison in 2012 on charges related to embezzling over $800,000 from clients whose wine he stored in the Mare Island warehouse, at which Anderson was one of multiple renters.

Holder's indictment document lists four purchase letters from an undisclosed Napa wine broker or brokers in 2016-2016 for 932 bottles totaling $89,774. There's also was a faxed list of 92 bottles to an unnamed Washington, D.C., retailer totaling $15,000.

Holder wasn't a holder of a Maryland license to sell wine, prosecutors said. Safe Harbour Wine Storage is unrelated to the Napa company of a similar name that offers bulk-wine services.

He is due to be sentenced before U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake on July 31.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Clarke prosecuted the federal case. Also involved were acting Baltimore FBI Special Agent in Charge Jennifer Moore and Anne Arundel County Police Chief Tim Altomare.

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