British man accused of swindling nearly $100m in wine fraud case pleads not guilty

UK

A British man accused of allegedly defrauding investors of nearly $100m (£79m) through a Ponzi-like scheme involving non-existent luxury wines has pleaded not guilty in a US court.

Stephen Burton, 58, was extradited to New York from Morocco on Friday to face the charges after he was arrested in 2022 after entering that country using a fake Zimbabwean passport.

Federal prosecutors said Burton, along with a co-defendant, ran Bordeaux Cellars, a company they said brokered loans between investors and high-net-worth wine collectors.

Burton pleaded not guilty to the indictment which was filed in 2022 and is being held pending trial.

Burton and co-defendant James Wellesley allegedly solicited $99m from investors from June 2017 to February 2019, approaching them at places including conferences in the US and overseas.

The men told lenders that the loans would be backed by wine they stored for wealthy collectors and promised profits through interest payments.

However, these collectors “did not actually exist and Bordeaux Cellars did not maintain custody of the wine purportedly securing the loans,” the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.

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Wellesley, also a British citizen, is currently awaiting extradition in the UK.

If convicted, the defendants could each face up to 20 years in prison for charges of wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

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