Back in the early aughts, Rudy Kurniawan embedded himself in the rare wine world, where bottles would sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was a constant presence at tastings and auctions, and he prided himself on his ability to sniff out counterfeit blends. Many looked to him for advice on improving their own collections.
His love for Burgundy wine from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti estate earned him a nickname: Dr. Conti.
Kurniawan's own collection was estimated to be worth millions, and he auctioned off elusive bottles for high prices over the years.
As his prowess in the wine world grew, so did skepticism about where he was getting his valuable bottles from. People began to sniff Dr. Conti himself out for being a counterfeit wine connoisseur. A lawsuit and an investigation confirmed that many of the valuable wines he was selling were falsely created in his home.
His scheme is the subject of the March 24 episode of ABC's The Con. There's a recent update about Rudy Kurniawan that will surely stun viewers.
Keep reading to find out where Kurniawan is now, and for more of the background on his wine fraud.
What did Rudy Kurniawan do? Details on his wine fraud scam.
Originally from Indonesia, Kurniawan (his birth name is reportedly Zhen Wang Huang) came to the U.S. on student visa for college in the late '90s. In 2003, the same year that he first began appearing at rare wine events, Kurniawan was ordered to submit to a voluntary deportation. He chose to remain in the U.S. without documentation instead.
He began buying and selling rare wine at this time, and he started hosting his own tastings to entice collectors. Kurniawan claimed that he had the money to buy these rare bottles because his family had been successful in business overseas.
At auctions, bottles from Kurniawan's elaborate collection would fetch tens of millions of dollars. Just a few years after he made a name for himself in the fine wine community, Rudy Kurniawan's reputation soured.
In 2007, Kurniawan auctioned off bottles of 1982 Le Pin Bordeaux through Christie's. Representatives from the estate later confirmed that the wine was fake.
Shortly thereafter, David Molyneaux-Berry, who was the head of wine at Sotheby's, shared that it was impossible for Kurniawan's 1947 bottles of Lafleur to be real.
In May of 2008, 22 bottles of Domaine Ponsot were removed from auction when they were discovered to be counterfeits.
Fellow wine collector William "Bill" Koch ended up suing Rudy Kurniawan in 2009. He claimed that Kurniawan had knowingly sold him and other collectors counterfeit bottles of wine.
He later defaulted on a loan from auction house Acker, Merrall & Condit, the place where he had been selling most of his expensive wine.
In 2012, FBI agents searched Kurniawan's home. They discovered goods that were helping him to bottle and create counterfeit wine (including labels, corks, stamps, and old, unmarked bottles). He was arrested shortly thereafter.
He went on trial in December of 2013, and he was found guilty of wine fraud and mail fraud.
Rudy Kurniawan made history as the first person to be convicted of selling fake wines in the United States.
The 2016 documentary Sour Grapes is about Rudy Kurniawan's scheme.
Where is Rudy Kurniawan now? He was up for release in November of 2020.
After Kurniawan's conviction in late December of 2013, he began serving time at the Reeves County Detention Complex in Pecos, Texas. Though he received a 10-year sentence, Kurniawan became eligible for release in November of 2020.
On November 6, 2020, Kurniawan was released from prison. Because he is not a legal resident of the United States, he is currently awaiting deportation to Indonesia at an ICE facility in New Mexico.
Rudy Kurniawan is now 44 years old.
The Con airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.