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Billionaire awarded $12M in fake wine case

Billionaire awarded $12M: Florida billionaire William Koch won a $12 million jury award in a case involving his purchase of counterfeit bottles of Bordeaux.

By Larry NeumeisterAssociated Press / April 13, 2013

Florida energy magnate William Koch smiles as he leaves Manhattan federal court, Thursday, in New York. A jury agreed that California businessman Eric Greenberg had sold Koch 24 bogus bottles of vintage wine at a 2005 auction and awarded him $12 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

(AP Photo/Larry Neumeister)

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New York

A jury awarded a Florida billionaire $12 million Friday in his dispute over phony vintage wine, and he vowed to do more to expose wine frauds. He also proclaimed it his happiest day since winning the America's Cup in 1992.

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"Out of sight! Over the moon!" William Koch said as he described his feelings after emerging giggling with glee from a courtroom in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. "We weren't even expecting any damages and we got $12 million. Unbelievable!"

The verdict came against businessman Eric Greenberg, who insisted that he never intentionally sold a fake bottle of wine in auctions that generated about $42 million for him over an eight-year period. The trial involved alleged counterfeit bottles of Bordeaux labeled as if they were made from 1864 to 1950.

In a statement, Greenberg called the verdict "a disappointment because I believed all the consigned wine to be authentic."

Outside court, Greenberg declined to comment beyond his statement.

Koch's lawyer, John Hueston, suggested that a criminal probe of Greenberg was underway, saying: "We're cooperating with the FBI." He declined to elaborate.

In a chilly drizzle outside court, the 72-year-old Koch celebrated with his lawyers, posed for pictures and met briefly with at least one of the eight jurors who decided on Thursday that Koch had been defrauded, awarding him $380,000 in compensatory damages.

Jurors returned Friday to hear Koch and Greenberg testify again and deliberate over punitive damages.

"I'm very sorry I had counterfeit wine," Greenberg told them. "It's a horrible thing. Both of us have lost millions of dollars."

The verdict was another blow to Greenberg, a former billionaire who built two Internet consulting companies before the 2000 collapse of those stocks reportedly reduced his net worth by as much as 90 percent.

Koch said he planned to use the $12 million to continue his crusade to clean up the wine auction industry, including by creating a website that highlights fake wines and who sells them.

Koch said he would include in the list the 421 bottles he had identified in his own collection as fake after buying them for $4.4 million over the years.

"I'm sad at the amount of fakes," he said. "That's why I stopped buying very old wines."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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