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Wine Arsonist Gets 27-Year Sentence

Mark Anderson has also been ordered to pay $70.3 million in restitution for setting the 2005 warehouse fire that destroyed more than 4.5 million bottles of wine from 95 Napa Valley wineries and injured two firefighters, according to the Department of Just

Just days after , , the Sausalito man convicted of causing a similar inferno that wiped out millions of stored bottles of Napa wines in 2005, was sentenced Tuesday to 27 years in prison and ordered to pay $70.3 million in restitution.

According to an announcement released by United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, ATF Acting Special Agent in Charge Scot L. Thomasson and IRS Special Agent in Charge Marcus Williams,

This case was the product of an extensive investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, the Vallejo Police Department, the Vallejo Fire Department, and the Sausalito Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney R. Steven Lapham prosecuted the case.

According to court documents, Anderson operated a business that provided storage for wine collectors for a fee.

In September 2005, he was charged by Marin County with 10 counts of embezzlement based on the complaints of numerous clients that their wine was missing.

These clients never gave Anderson permission to sell the wine, nor did they receive compensation for it.

When news about the Marin County investigation began to surface, several asked for their wine back or asked to view their wine to verify that it was still there.

Anderson would usually provide some excuse such as that the wine had been temporarily misplaced. Ultimately, each victim suffered losses ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

On October 12, 2005, at approximately 3:38 p.m., the Vallejo Fire Department received a fire alarm for the Wines Central warehouse. T

The two-story, 240,000 square foot environmentally controlled warehouse in Vallejo housed primarily premium wine from 95 Napa Valley wineries. Anderson rented space in the warehouse, which he used to store his clients’ wine.

The warehouse was completely destroyed at a loss conservatively estimated to be $200 to 250 million. Over 4.5 million bottles of premium wine were damaged or destroyed in the fire. Some of these wineries lost entire vintages and, in some cases, their entire inventory. Two firefighters were injured during the fire suppression.

ATF’s National Response Team determined that the fire was caused by arson originating in a portion of the warehouse occupied only by Anderson. At the time of the fire, Anderson was in the process of being evicted for a variety of problems including failure to pay several months of back rent. On the day of the fire, Anderson was at the warehouse ostensibly to dismantle the remainder of his wine racks and remove the rest of his clients’ wine.

According to court documents, on November 16, 2009, Anderson pleaded guilty to 19 counts: one count of arson, four counts of interstate transportation of fraudulently obtained property, nine counts of mail fraud, one count of use of a fictitious name, and four counts of tax evasion. Sentencing was delayed for over two years by Anderson’s attempt to withdraw his guilty plea, which ultimately was denied.

According to the guilty plea, Anderson admitted that he set fire to the Wines Central warehouse in Vallejo and that he had been embezzling wine from his clients for many years. In pleading guilty to the tax evasion counts, Anderson also admitted that he failed to report more than $800,000 in income from the sale of the embezzled wine and therefore evaded more than $290,000 in taxes.

Commenting on the sentence, United States Attorney Wagner said, “This was not just a devastating loss to the wine collectors who were clients of the defendant, this was a tragic and historic loss to the wine industry. Most of the victim wineries were small family run businesses that housed their complete inventory at Wines Central because they had no storage capacity of their own. These businesses lost their entire ability to generate revenue for up to two years, which is roughly the time it takes to produce a bottle of wine. This caused a great deal of financial and emotional distress on those small business owners and their employees. The sentence today properly reflects that suffering.”

“Arson is a violent crime that often results in tragic loss of life and property,” said ATF Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomasson. “Arson-related crime continues to be one of ATF’s highest investigative priorities. This investigation was a collaborative effort and we are pleased with the successful conclusion.”

According to IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Williams, “In an attempt to hide his income from the IRS, Mr. Anderson set fire to his warehouse to destroy the evidence. His outrageous conduct not only cheated the government out of income taxes but ruined the livelihood of many people.”

Source: United States Department of Justice

Louisa Hufstader February 07, 2012 at 10:33 PM
I reported on this fire for KVON/KVYN and the Associated Press in 2005. It seems like a lifetime ago; but I recall that some Napa wineries lost their entire libraries, which is a tragedy for a vintner.
John K. Ruch February 07, 2012 at 11:07 PM
This guy is like the Bernie Madoff of the wine world-bad all around. Glad he is going to the place-where-there-is-no wine for a looong time. I recall being amazed that he withdrew his initial guilty plea. Anyone know if he actually has any assets? $70 mil might not go that far when spread to all those that suffered a loss, but it will sure help. I was working for a big Napa winery at the time that had stored some of their higher end wines at the facility. It was a bit awkward to explain why the winery skipped a vintage of these wines. For the smaller vintners that had their entire libraries there it was surely devastating. I'm sure this is bittersweet for all that suffered a loss-good to hear justice prevailed but a sad reminder of what happened.
Curt Williams February 08, 2012 at 07:08 AM
Justice delayed, is still justice served. I'm glad this court case is over, but the damage and misery this one man caused still haunts the Valley. I don't feel that anyone will ever see a dime of the $70 million, so I hope he serves all 27 years. But we all know that won't happen either.

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