Calif. man pleads guilty in wine warehouse fire

AP News
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Posted: Nov 16, 2009 8:04 PM

A California wine keeper has pleaded guilty to setting a fire that destroyed a warehouse filled with 6 million bottles of wine and illegally selling wine he was supposed to be storing for customers.

Attorney Mark Reichel says his client, 61-year-old Mark Anderson, admitted guilt on 19 federal charges including arson, mail fraud and tax evasion Monday in an agreement with prosecutors that helps him avoid a possible sentence of life in prison without parole.

The October 2005 fire caused an estimated $250 million in losses at the Wines Central warehouse, which stored bottles for about 95 Napa Valley wineries and collectors.

As part of the plea agreement, federal prosecutors agreed not to ask for more than 15 years and eight months in prison, Reichel said.

"We can go in and ask for a lot less than that and we plan to do that," he said.

Reichel said Anderson has already spent three years in the Sacramento County Jail awaiting a trial, which was scheduled to begin Tuesday.

An exhibit accompanying the plea deal says Anderson began embezzling wine from his clients, selling and shipping it to premium wine merchants and auction houses around the country.

It says on Oct. 12, 2005, Anderson used gasoline-soaked rags to start the fire in Wines Central warehouse, wiping out virtually its entire contents of wine and sugar.

The U.S. Attorney's office said Anderson failed to report more than $800,000 in income from selling the wine he stole, evading more than $290,000 in taxes.

A Jan. 26 hearing date was set for a judge to rule on the deal.