Berkeley wine store owner pleads the fifth in response to creditors’ questions

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Rachael Garner/File

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John Fox, owner of the Berkeley wine store Premier Cru, declined to testify during a creditor’s hearing Wednesday in response to questions posed by creditors and the trustee regarding the loss of millions of dollars in wine orders.

Fox Ortega Enterprises Inc., the corporation that owns Premier Cru, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Jan. 8, and Fox followed suit one month later.

At the meeting, creditors and the trustee of the company’s assets, Michael Kasolas, had the opportunity to question Fox regarding the outcome of the various undelivered wine orders.

According to the company’s attorney Stephen Finestone, Fox asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Despite the quantity of money involved, Kosalas’s attorney Mark Bostick said the meeting was friendly and that there was “no animosity whatsoever” from the creditors.

“This isn’t their life savings that went down the drain, this is some wine,” Bostick said, although he added that some people did lose a lot of money.

According to Bostick, Fox attached a list of all of Premier Cru’s creditors on his bankruptcy petition, a strategy that would exonerate him from repaying Premier Cru’s creditors if the bankruptcy court grants Fox a discharge.

Going forward, Kasolas is responsible for liquidating the company’s assets and determining where to allocate funds. Bostick added that it is “too soon to say” what the amount of compensation creditors will receive, but may have a better idea in about a year.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been examining the alleged involvement of Premier Cru in a Ponzi scheme since early February. The FBI has set up a hotline for potential victims to report their grievances against Premier Cru in order to better categorize and validate the complaints, according to FBI spokesperson Prentice Danner.

“It’s not about speed for us, it’s about being thorough and following the evidence,” Danner said.

Contact Hannah Lewis at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hlewis_dc