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Old 20-03-2007, 10:12 AM posted to
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Default LAT: Man indicted in devastating wine fire

Man indicted in devastating wine fire
Authorities say a Sausalito businessman set the multimillion-dollar
warehouse blaze to cover up a scheme to steal from clients.

By Eric Bailey and Lee Romney, Times Staff Writers
March 20, 2007

SACRAMENTO -- A colorful wine industry entrepreneur has been accused
of setting a $200-million fire at a Vallejo wine storage warehouse to
cover up a scheme to steal and then sell his clients' wine, federal
authorities announced Monday.

The October 2005 blaze at Wines Central, which rocked Northern
California's wine industry, destroyed millions of bottles of premium
wine, obliterating entire wine libraries as well as some highly rated
blends that had not yet been tasted by the public.

Numerous boutique wineries were forced out of business when their
inventory was decimated.

The investigation quickly turned to Mark S. Anderson, a longtime
Sausalito resident and civic leader. Monday, nearly a year and a half
after the conflagration, authorities unsealed a 19-count indictment
that alleges Anderson, 58, set the fortress-like facility ablaze.

At a news conference crowded with investigators from multiple
agencies, U.S. Atty. McGregor Scott said the fire broke out in the
part of the 240,000-square-foot warehouse where Anderson rented space
to store wine owned by clients of his firm, Sausalito Cellars.

Anderson, whose business specialized in climate-controlled storage of
premium vintages, was seen at the warehouse in the hours before the
blaze, Scott said.

"Mark Anderson put lives at risk to cover his tracks," Scott said.
"Due to his greed and deceit he now faces ... many, many years in

The indictment, issued by a federal grand jury last week, includes a
single felony count of arson and multiple counts of interstate
transportation of fraudulently obtained property, mail fraud, use of a
fictitious name and tax evasion.

A well-known figure in the upscale if eccentric Marin County town of
Sausalito, Anderson was a Rotary Club member and served on the city's
arts and parks and recreation commissions.

He told residents he was once a sumo wrestler and worked in the music
industry. Fluent in Japanese, he headed Sausalito's Sister City
Committee, which arranged a trip to Sakaide, Japan, a few years back.

He's "very socially engaging," said Sausalito Police Chief Scott
Paulin, who belonged to the Rotary Club with Anderson and spearheaded
the embezzlement portion of the investigation. "Prior to the criminal
activity coming to light, he was well received."

Paulin called Anderson "a very good con man."

Anderson is accused of stealing more than $1.1 million in wine from
his clients.

In 2003, the first victim came forward, reporting that five pallets of
wine Anderson had been storing were missing. Two criminal cases are
now pending against Anderson in Marin County Superior Court, alleging
that he stole wine from 11 collectors.

Anderson's firm originally stored wines from several customers in
Sausalito, but later moved most of the merchandise to the Vallejo
warehouse, a former Navy torpedo storage facility on Mare Island,
about 35 miles northeast of San Francisco.

The Vallejo blaze, which occurred just as police scrutiny of Anderson
was intensifying, burned for six hours.

The structure's 3-foot-thick concrete walls and steel doors -- perfect
for keeping the wine cool and secure -- thwarted attempts to quickly
extinguish the inferno.

Flames destroyed about half a million cases of "ultra-premium" wines.

Also among the losses were so-called "library wines" that vintners
store as a virtual genealogical record of year-to-year changes in each

Anderson came under immediate suspicion after the blaze.

Over the months that followed, a team made up of investigators from
the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the IRS
and local police and fire agencies probed the case.

Scott and the investigators declined to say how they linked Anderson
directly to the crime.

The indictment accuses Anderson of using a second business, Kansai
Partners, to fraudulently sell his clients' wine to a Chicago company
between September 2004 and October 2005.

During the transactions, Anderson is accused of using assumed names,
including Joseph Throckmorton and Peter Martin. He is also accused of
failing to pay taxes on more than $800,000 in income from 2001 to

Federal agents arrested Anderson without incident last week. He
appeared Monday morning in U.S. Magistrate Court in San Francisco and
is being held without bail pending transfer of his case to Sacramento.

Jack Krystal, chief executive of Wines Central, said his business has
still not recovered. Rebuilding will probably take another nine
months. Dozens of his customers were ruined by the blaze.

"Making wine is like farming. You plant it, you harvest it, you make
it, you bottle it, and you nurse it along. It's like a baby," he said.
"The damage was horrible, and not only monetarily but socially -- on
families and employees, on all of us.

"We feel like I imagine an individual who may have been raped or shot
walking down the street feels," Krystal said. Douglas Due was among
those whose business and dreams were destroyed in the blaze.

Up in smoke were more than 800 cases of wine from his Domain Ladue --
at least 90% of his inventory.

"We're basically out of business," said Due, 39, who last year took a
job as director of business services for a company that builds and
manages recreational facilities. "All of our capital was tied up in
our inventory, and our inventory burned up."

Like others whose wines were damaged, he believes he may end up in
court with his insurer, who has not yet paid up.

"Getting the perpetrator is a nice consolation prize, but it's not
going to change the cards I hold or the process I have had to go
through," Due said.,full.story

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