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Wine Scandal Watch: The FBI Swoops In

2012 February 17
by Mike

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allegedly consigned the auction lots that were identified by Don Cornwell as suspect, and a number of those lots were withdrawn from the sale after Cornwell went public with his concerns.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.

20 Responses leave one →
  1. May 11, 2013

    My brother suggested I may like this website. He was entirely right.

    This publish truly made my day. You cann’t imagine just how so much time I had spent for this information! Thank you!

  2. Dan McCallum permalink
    February 20, 2012

    Bill,
    I was actually more concerned about the absense of the promising “…”. And I knew that you wouldn’t be indicating where your treasure was buried; nor would you have taken up tossing around early Christian symbols. Actually, as I tried to unravel the puzzle, I considered the possibility that you were channeling my favorite X — Malcolm; and would return with a screed on the linkage between Mike’s two topics here, IE, the blighted men’s chickens coming home to roost. Please do!

  3. Bill Klapp permalink
    February 20, 2012

    Dan, sorry about the “X”. Just as I was about to tell what I knew about all of this, the FBI swooped in and confiscated my iMac. I assume that they will give it back in time, and with a Democrat in office, I am hopeful that they will not erase all of my porn-site bookmarks!

  4. February 19, 2012

    Bill, I agree on all counts. Parker’s behavior throughout this entire episode has been sadly typical of his conduct in recent years. It’s really incredible, the disconnect between the values he espoused early in his career and the attitude he is now displaying at the end of it. One wonders what the old Robert Parker would have made of the current one.

  5. February 19, 2012

    Mike: ‘Thanks, Jim, and I’m glad to know that you weren’t ticked off. And please let us know if and when you hear back from Parker. I’m not holding my breath, and I’m sure that you aren’t, either.’

    Will do.

  6. Bill Haydon permalink
    February 19, 2012

    Parker being a thin skinned bully spinning lies about his in-house….errr, I mean independent investigation not to mention being utterly oblivious to the fact that his newsletter was the blogging equivalent of its day is not news. Parker being magnanimous, honest and genuinely interested in full and open disclosure of what went down in Spain would be news.

    A restaurant called Guidos owned by Castanos being involved in flipping fake DRC at auction is right out of a Sopranos episode. If nothing else, this should provide further amusement.

  7. February 19, 2012

    Jack, I like “Winery Advocate” and it certainly seems to fit.

    Anon, so true what you say. It’s sort of sad that it is has come to this with the self-proclaimed consumer advocate, but there you have it. Forgive me for quoting myself here, but I wrote this a few months ago: “I’m sure that Parker would not appreciate the irony, but it seems to me that the same Naderite sensibility that guided his early efforts—a belief in transparency, and in the right of consumers to know the truth—has driven recent press coverage of him.” He clearly doesn’t appreciate the irony, and he clearly has no qualms about making false and malicious claims regarding people who are trying to get at the truth.

    Thanks, Jim, and I’m glad to know that you weren’t ticked off. And please let us know if and when you hear back from Parker. I’m not holding my breath, and I’m sure that you aren’t, either.

  8. February 19, 2012

    Frank and Larry, there is definitely some interesting stuff on the wine list, and the prices are very attractive. But as I said, it’s not a wine list you would associate with a guy who is trying to sell big quantities of old DRC at auction. I look forward to learning more about Castanos.

    Bill, with regard to “X”–I completely agree! But, Dan, I don’t think “Y” is applicable in this case; maybe “Z”, though.

    Robin, if they put Yquem on the list at a decent price and actually serve you Yquem when you order it (in contrast to my experience with that sommelier in Boston), then it might be worth a trip to LA!

  9. February 19, 2012

    ‘Jim, thanks for stopping by, and I hope you don’t mind that I expressed my disagreement with your decision to cooperate with Parker.’

    Mike of course I didn’t mind. Quite right to raise the question whether journalists should cooperate with such enquiries.

  10. Anon permalink
    February 19, 2012

    “The blogger Budd”

    Ah, that old term of Parker derision, “blogger”, which he flings around to distinguish the kind of derisory reporting done by Jim Budd and yourself Mike – you know, uncovering fake wine fraud, ethical violations – frivolous stuff like that – from the truly important work of fearless and independent investigatory journalism done by the real pros like him.

  11. Jack Bulkin permalink
    February 18, 2012

    LOL Mike. After the “Tweet” the ol Chutzpah King is likely to get even more attention from me.
    I think it’s time that he changes the name of his periodical to “The Winery Advocate.” That’s my opinion of where he is at at this stage of his life.

  12. February 18, 2012

    I read all of your posts, Jack!

    Jim, thanks for stopping by, and I hope you don’t mind that I expressed my disagreement with your decision to cooperate with Parker. His behavior throughout this entire affair has been pretty despicable, but I think he hit a new low with the claim about your willingness to talk. I’m sure you know not to expect a clarification or apology; it’s not the Parker way.

    Dan, thanks for the kind words. While many people clearly want to get to the bottom of the fraud issue, there are other players in the market who, for one reason or another, have a lot of incentive to keep their mouths shut. I think there has been a circling of the wagons in the past, and I suspect the same thing is happening now with regard to the London auction.

  13. RobinC permalink
    February 18, 2012

    If Guidos adds a Château d’Yquem to the wine list I’ll fly there.

  14. Dan McCallum permalink
    February 18, 2012

    X???
    Y?

  15. Bill Klapp permalink
    February 18, 2012

    X

  16. Larry Kantrowitz permalink
    February 18, 2012

    There are lot’s of gems on that list, that’s the kind of place I would become a regular at, put up with mediocre food for a fantastic wine cheap. As for the fraud, my guess is the guy who owns this Guido’s bought the DRC from a guy who he trusted and didn’t question the wines to be real, or Guido’s is really hangout for the mob (wouldn’t be the first restaurant with cheap wine frequented by the mob) and being drugs and hooker profits are shrinking they decided to get into the wine business, perfect case for Colombo!

  17. Frank permalink
    February 17, 2012

    ’98 Calon Segur at $65? In a restaurant? WTF?

    I found it on WineSearcher for a minimum of $75. No wonder he has to sell the “DRC” – he ain’t making any money on his (allegedly) good stuff. Caveat emptor…

  18. Dan McCallum permalink
    February 17, 2012

    Rather penetrating coverage Mike, of the pointed stick sort.
    On Auctiongate, I’d think that the players presently are all holding each other closely; each assuring the others that they won’t be taking the offers of immunity. The Omerta?
    And on the other matters- of probity- we may not know the answers until somebody’s nose starts to grow (or pants catch on fire).

  19. February 17, 2012

    ‘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.’

    Mike: you may be right, especially in view of Robert Parker’s recent claims on his bulletin board. However, when we received the request (19th January 2012), we decided to pass on copies of emails and two other documents that were already in the public domain – published in various posts on Jim’s Loire. Some of those emails I had already sent to Robert Parker last December – as usual I received no acknowledgment. We made sure we did not not reveal our sources.

    To date I have received no clarification from Parker’s lawyer regarding Robert’s assertion that I have been ‘reluctant to talk to us’ nor any request to arrange a meeting and no word from RP himself or ‘The Avocat en Vinaigrette’ .

    Truly ‘Alice in Maryland’!

  20. Jack Bulkin permalink
    February 17, 2012

    Bobulous Chutzpah and th F.B.I. are investigating the Spectrum Auction???
    Mike you have been reading too many of myposts.

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