Wine Scandal Watch: The FBI Swoops In
That controversial auction in London last week continues to generate fallout. The big news: The FBI is on the case. I’m told that at least two people have been interviewed by the FBI concerning the Spectrum/Vanquish sale, and I know that another person has been contacted to arrange an interview. In the comments section of the item that I posted last week on this topic, I expressed doubt about the willingness of law enforcement officials to take up the wine fraud problem (the FBI has poked around the issue in the past, but to no end); consider my words hereby eaten. I have no idea how extensive the federal probe is at this point, and there’s no way of knowing if it will lead to any charges. But the fact that the feds have moved in so quickly is interesting.
It would be good to learn more about the mystery man at the center of this latest fraud scandal, Antonio Castanos. Here’s what we do know. Castanos allegedly consigned the auction lots that were identified by Don Cornwell as suspect, and a number of those lots were withdrawn from the sale after Cornwell went public with his concerns. Castanos owns a restaurant in Los Angeles called Guido’s. Here’s a picture of it:
Judging by the restaurant’s wine list, it seems a little odd that Castanos would be selling a large cache of older DRC at an auction in London. Here are a couple of questions that I hope we’ll see answered soon:
-Where and when did Castanos obtain the wines that he allegedly consigned to the London auction?
-Has Castanos made consignments to other Spectrum auctions, and has Spectrum ever paid for him to travel to any of its sales?
-Has Castanos sold rarities to any retailers and brokers?
-Have any of the bottles that Castanos allegedly consigned to the London sale been rejected in the past by other auction houses or returned to other auction houses on account of concerns about authenticity?
– Does Castanos have any ties to Rudy Kurniawan?
Robert Parker posted an update the other day on eBob regarding the status of his investigation into the Pancho Campo controversy. He said that he hoped to “have the conclusions within several weeks” but that the “blogger Budd…has been reluctant to talk with us.” That was evidently a lie; Jim Budd quickly responded by saying that Parker’s investigators have not asked to meet with him and that in response to a request for information from Parker’s attorney, Stephen Miller, he had handed over emails and other documents related to the Campo matter. He cited emails from Miller thanking him for his cooperation. Harold Heckle, the Associated Press reporter who helped call attention to Campo’s questionable dealings with various regional wine associations in Spain, has likewise shared documents with Miller.
I received the same request for information from Miller, and on the same day that he reached out to Budd, January 19th. Unlike Budd, I ignored the email. For one thing, I had nothing to share; in this case, I was simply a parasitical blogger commenting on the various nuggets that Budd and Heckle had unearthed. But even if I’d had relevant information, I wouldn’t have handed it over to Miller and Parker. In my opinion, it is not the role of journalists to assist public figures with private investigations into scandals of their own making. Frankly, I’m surprised that Budd and Heckle have offered Parker their cooperation. I understand that they are eager to see all the facts brought to light, but I don’t think they should be helping Parker, and especially not after he tried to bully them into silence by threatening a lawsuit. And now Parker expresses his gratitude for the cooperation by casually slandering Budd? I believe that in rural Maryland they have a word for this sort of thing: it’s called chutzpah.