Finding $150-a-bottle Sonoma and Napa red wines at the bargain price of $60 might sound too good to be true.
Apparently, it was.
Felony criminal complaints have been filed against two Santa Rosa men and a Napa resident alleging they embezzled nearly $200,000 worth of high-end Bordeaux-style red blends produced by Jackson Family Wines, part of the Kendall-Jackson empire owned by Sonoma County wine giant Jess Jackson.
According to Sonoma County court documents, Jordan P. Crass, 29, of Santa Rosa, a former customer service representative at Jackson’s Windsor distribution center, was the ringleader who set in motion a potentially very profitable scheme.
He faces six felony charges including grand theft, four counts of burglary and unauthorized computer access.
Depending on how much investigators can establish was stolen, a conviction in the case could mean prison time, prosecutor Amy Ariyoshi said.
In addition to Crass, Jarrett M. Berg, 28, of Santa Rosa and Kevin M. Hall, 29, of Napa are named in the complaint. They face three felony charges each of receiving stolen property.
Hall is an employee of Regal Wine Co., a Jackson-owned distribution company. Berg is a high school friend of Hall’s who is alleged to have delivered the wine to buyers, according to court papers.
None of the men has been arrested. Contacted by phone, Hall declined comment, Crass didn’t return a message seeking comment and Berg couldn’t be reached.
The attention of Jackson wine executives was sparked in April 2007 when the company’s vice president for marketing found Verité wines for sale on the Internet. The wines, three different 2004 vintages of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc blends, hadn’t been released to the public, company officials told investigators.
“He saw this wine and said, ‘Wait a minute, how did they get that?’ He ordered it and said, ‘Yep, that’s our wine,’ ” Sheriff’s Sgt. Glenn Lawrence said. “From there it snowballed.”
Tiffanie De Liberty, an attorney for Jackson Family Enterprises, said in an e-mail the company wouldn’t comment on the case.
An internal investigation by Jackson Family Wines revealed that unreleased 2004 vintages of La Muse, La Joie and Le Désir wines “were available on the Internet in large quantities and at prices substantially below” retail prices, detective Randy Williams wrote in an investigative document filed with the request for search warrants.
The wines were being offered on eBay and four fine wine retailers’ Web sites.
Company investigators traced computer transactions believed to have been made by Crass that indicate he also traded bottles of wine for tickets to sporting events with a Pleasant Hill ticket broker, Williams said.
Crass, who was fired in early April, created false “lost” wine shipments or marked shipments as returns so the wine could be sent out without being tied to an order by a specific customer, a search warrant affidavit alleged.
Williams’ report detailed seven “inventory adjustments” allegedly made in January and February 2007 from Crass’ computer at the company’s shipping center involving nearly 1,000 bottles of 2002 and 2003 Verité and Lokoya wines costing $150 to $175 a bottle. Each of the shipments was labeled lost.
Another inventory check showed 240 missing bottles of 2004 Verité wines, valued at more than $34,000.
Edward Mackauff, president of finewinecollector.com in San Jose, told investigators he bought several bottles of the pricy reds from Hall, whom he said contacted him as a representative of Regal Wine Co. Regal is the distribution arm of Jackson’s wine empire.
Mackauff provided detectives with canceled checks valued at nearly $9,000 written to Berg and Hall for three wine shipments. One of the checks had a bank-required fingerprint of the person who cashed it, Williams said in his report.
“It’s not fun being a victim of anything,” said Mackauff. “I was able to help figure out what was going on and helped catch them. But I’d rather forget it all.”