Palm Beach billionaire William Koch takes his wine seriously -- very seriously. So when it came to the industrialist's attention that he had been duped into buying hundreds of thousands of dollars of fake wine, he bit back.
Koch is the slightly more private brother of billionaires David and Charles Koch, famous for their massive contributions to right-wing political causes. All of the brothers made their fortunes from oil and coal interests beginning with a company started by their father. William Koch, now 73, is founder of the Oxbow Energy group. Forbes magazine this month estimated his net worth at $3.9 billion.
At a wine auction in 2005, Koch bought 24 bottles of what he believed were ultra-rare wines -- he paid $9,000 for a 1949 Chateau Lafleur, $30,000 for a 1947 Chateau Petrus, and tens of thousands of dollars more for bottles supposedly corked in the 1800s and early 1900s -- all from California businessman Eric Greenberg.
But when he began to suspect that the wines were counterfeit and that they had been blended with more modern wines, he sued and sued hard -- for fraud, making materially misleading representations, and false advertising. Despite the seller's multiple offers to refund the purchase price, Koch hired glass experts, label experts, glue experts, and cork experts to examine the wines in his own cellar. In all, Koch is said to have invested $25 million investigating the fraudulent wine.
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After initially being awarded $379,000 in compensatory damages and $12 million in punitive damages a year ago, a Manhattan judge has now reduced the damages to just $711,600. The judge ruled Monday that while "the flagrancy of Greenberg's fraud" merited punishment, "harm was economic in nature and none of its targets... were financially vulnerable."
Greenberg has maintained he believed the wines were authentic.
According to the Daily News, a spokesman for Koch said the goal never was about money but to expose wine fraud.