British man pleads not guilty in alleged $99 million wine fraud conspiracy

Dec 16, 2023, 2:31 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A British man pleaded not guilty in a New York courtroom Saturday in connection with an alleged $99 million, Ponzi-like fraud involving high-priced fine wine and duped investors.

Stephen Burton, 58, was extradited Friday to New York from Morocco, where he was arrested in 2022 after using a bogus Zimbabwean passport to enter that country, U.S. Attorney Breon Peace’s office said.

Burton was arraigned in Brooklyn federal court on Saturday and pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy. He is detained without bail pending his next court hearing on Jan. 22.

“These are all allegations, and we will defend them vigorously,” Burton’s lawyer, John Wallenstein, said. “We’re going to wait for the discovery and examine the evidence very carefully.”

Prosecutors said Burton and another British man, James Wellesley, 56, ran a company called Bordeaux Cellars, which they said brokered loans between investors and wealthy wine collectors that were secured by their wine collections. They solicited $99 million in investments from residents of New York and other areas from 2017 to 2019, telling them they would profit from interest on the loans, authorities said.

But prosecutors alleged the operation was a scam. They said the wealthy wine collectors did not exist, no loans were made, and Bordeaux Cellars did not have custody of the wine securing the loans. Instead, officials said, Burton and Wellesley used loan money provided by investors for themselves and to make fraudulent interest payments to other investors.

“With the successful extradition of Burton to the Eastern District of New York, he will now taste justice for the fine wines scheme alleged in the indictment,” Peace said in a statement. “This prosecution sends a message to all perpetrators of global fraud that you can run from law enforcement, but not forever.”

Wellesley is in the United Kingdom facing extradition proceedings, officials said. It was not immediately clear if he has a lawyer who could respond to the allegations.

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British man pleads not guilty in alleged $99 million wine fraud conspiracy