i) Police bust Montreal counterfeit wine ring
Authorities allege the ring sold some 1.8 million bottles of wine over a four-year span
May 13, 2015
by The Canadian Press
MONTREAL—Police have dismantled a Montreal-area contraband wine ring that is accused of taking cheap Italian wine purchased in bulk and passing it off as a finer vintage.
Authorities allege the ring sold some 1.8 million bottles of wine over a four-year span, depriving the federal and provincial government of roughly $14 million in tax revenues.
Eleven people were arrested by police in and around the Montreal area as well as in Ontario, including a presumed ringleader who is a wine specialist.
In addition, police say two others were part of the brain trust while others arrested were simply associated with the ring.
Two suspects remain on the lam.
The charges include fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, trademark infringement and recycling the proceeds of crime.
Police said their investigation suggests only one type of wine was being imported from Italy and arriving by container in Ontario. It was then taken to First Nations Winery in Kahnawake, where it was allegedly rebottled with additives and flavours mixed in so it could be sold publicly under false names.
“The ring was offering about 20 types of wines, with counterfeit labelling and different flavours,” said Cmdr. Marco Roy, head of a Montreal police squad that targets the underground economy.
Some 89,000 litres of wine have been seized since the investigation began in January 2014.
iii) Former CEO of Diamond Estates Arrested for Fraud 13th May, 2015
by Lucy Shaw
A dozen people including the former CEO of Diamond Estates Winery have been arrested in Montreal as part of an investigation into an alleged tax fraud in which 1.8m bottles of wine were sold on the black market.
Winemaker Luca Gaspari was among the dozen arrested as part of “Project Malbec”
As reported by the Montreal Gazette, the gang were arrested by Montreal police squad Actions Concertée pour Contrer les Economies Souterraines (ACCES) on Tuesday.
Among the ringleaders are said to be two Ontario wine professionals, while a thirteenth person is being sought on an arrest warrant.
Dubbed “Project Malbec”, the investigation began last January and has uncovered a record number of contraband wines sold by a single network.
The group is alleged to have sold over 1.8 million bottles of wine illegally over the last four years.
Murray Marshall, former CEO of Diamond Estates Winery in Ontario, is alleged to be one of the ringleaders of the gang
The scheme involved bringing wine in 24,000-litre containers through the port of Montreal, transporting it to Ontario to be bottled to look like popular wine brands, then returning it to Quebec through Kahnawake.
Montreal police started the investigation after seizing 100 cases of wine in one go.
First Nations Winery in Kahnawake, run by Floyd Lahache, is under investigation for its involvement in the scheme.
Luca Gaspari, director of Les Vins Tenute Santarelli Inc, is also under investigation. He is known in Canada for making “wine” from maple syrup.
According to commander Marco Roy, head of ACCES, Murray Marshall, the former president and CEO of Diamond Estates Winery in Ontario, has been arrested as part of the investigation and is alleged to be one of the ringleaders.
“They had a very well-organised distribution network,” Roy told the Montreal Gazette.
Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits was founded in 2000 became a publicly traded company in 2013.
Among the wines in its portfolio is a range made by actor Dan Aykroyd.
President from 2001 until October 2013, when he was succeeded by J. Murray Souter, Marshall was fired by Diamond Estates in May 2014.
Souter spoke to db today about the investigation. “Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits is aware of the fraud investigation surrounding the First Nations Winery and we have been cooperating fully with the authorities in their investigation. We are compliant with all federal and provincial laws and have not been implicated in any of the alleged criminal activity,” he said.
“We ceased doing business with First Nations Winery in December 2014 immediately after learning of the fraud investigation by the Montreal Police,” he added.
An individual acting as an accountant for the group was also arrested on Tuesday, with the remaining suspects having worked as distributors.
The dozen suspects are due to be charged with fraud, conspiracy, possession of proceeds obtained through crime, and counterfeiting.
iv) 12 Face Charges in Alleged Contraband Wine Scheme
Twelve people, including at least two who have well-established ties to Canada’s legitimate wine and spirits industry, were arrested Tuesday in an investigation into an alleged tax fraud scheme in which nearly 2 million bottles of wine were sold on the black market.
The arrests were carried out by the Montreal police unit Actions concertée pour contrer les économies souterraines (ACCES), a squad that has 35 investigators who specialize in the sale of contraband
products like tobacco. One more person is being sought on an arrest warrant.
Commander Marco Roy, the head of ACCES, said the investigation uncovered a record amount of contraband wine sold by a single network.
The investigation, dubbed Project Malbec (a reference to a type of grape used to make red wine) began in January 2014. It turned up evidence that the group sold more than 1.8 million bottles of wine during the past four years. Roy said that represents more than $13 million in taxes of which the provincial government was deprived and more than $1 million for the federal government.
Roy said part of the investigation involves the First Nations Winery in Kahnawake and that two people who have been involved with legitimate wine companies based in Ontario are alleged to have been among the three ringleaders.
Luca Gaspari, 52, of St-Basile-le- Grand, is listed as a director of Les Vins Tenute Santarelli Inc., a company based in Bolton, Ont. Floyd Lahache, 57, is listed as a director of the same company and is also listed as the owner of First Nations Winery on Quebec’s business registry. The Kahnawake- based company’s Facebook page features a photo of Gaspari touring Puglia, a region in southern Italy. The caption with the photo reads: “Luca Gaspari, visiting a winery in Puglia. This is where our Primitivo & Negroamaro red wine come from.”
Lahache, who started his company in 2006, is a former professional hockey player who played at the junior level in Sherbrooke, from 1973 to 1978, and got a brief chance to play in the World Hockey Association, a league that tried to compete with the NHL during the 1970s, on a team called the Cincinnati Stingers. In 2007, Quebec’s provincial liquor board, the Régie des alcools des courses et des jeux de Québec, threatened legal action against Lahache’s company because it wasn’t operating with provincial permits. But it appears no tribunal in Quebec has ruled on the issue.
A website for Les Vins Tenute Santarelli Inc. describes Gaspari as “an oenologist” with a passion for creating unique wine from maple syrup that is sold in the U.S., Japan and in Europe. Gaspari did a series of media interviews to promote his maple syrup wine more than two decades ago.
Roy said a former executive with another well-established wine producer in Ontario was also arrested Tuesday and is alleged to be one of the ringleaders. The executive, Murray Marshall, 58, described as the president and CEO of Diamond Estates Winery when he made a speech in southern Ontario last year, appeared before a judge via a video link with a courthouse in Oakville, Ont., where he was detained following his arrest.
The head of the squad also said a person acting as an accountant for the network was arrested and the other suspects acted as distributors.
The alleged scheme involved bringing large amounts of wine — in 24,000-litre containers — in through the Port of Montreal, transporting it to Ontario to be bottled into 20 brands, and then returned to Quebec through Kahnawake, Roy said. He added that the Montreal police started the investigation after seizing 100 cases of wine in one shot.
“That is when we saw the potential — that there was something more to it,” Roy said. “They had a very well- organized distribution network.”
Roy said that besides charges of fraud, conspiracy and possession of proceeds obtained through crime, some of the people arrested will be charged with counterfeiting bottles of wine made to look like popular
brands Quebecers could purchase at the SAQ.
A series of search warrants were carried out in December and January in connection with the investigation.