Wine fraudster sentenced to prison

Rachael Garner/File

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A federal judge sentenced John Fox, former owner of Berkeley wine shop Premier Cru, to six and a half years in federal prison Wednesday after he was found guilty of defrauding more than 4,000 customers out of about $45 million.

Fox, 66, collected payment for pre-order wine that did not exist and embezzled $5 million from the company, according to the East Bay Times. During the course of the trial, it was revealed that he spent the money on sports cars, credit cards, younger mistresses and his daughter’s college education.

In addition to the prison sentence, the court ordered Fox to pay restitution of more than $50 million to the victims, according to Fox’s lawyer Robert Breakstone. Breakstone said in an email that the Federal Bureau of Prisons will designate where Fox will serve his sentence.

“He will be 72 when he gets out [with] no job; no friends; not much left of his family,” Breakstone wrote in the email. “As he said in Court he wished he could turn back the clock. He will have a lot to think about the next 6 (and a half) years.”

Premier Cru and Fox filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

Raphael Cung of the law firm Callahan & Blaine represented a Chinese businessman who lost about $669,000 to Fox. Premier Cru initially fulfilled his client’s wine orders, Cung said, but beginning about 2012 the business stopped delivering wine and provided excuses when confronted.

Cung said he favored a longer sentence because “the scale of the fraud was so massive, and it hurt thousands of people,” but that the judge chose a lighter sentence in part due to Fox’s age.

According to Cung, Fox said during the sentencing that he planned to take computer courses and create a startup after serving his sentence to make $1 billion and repay those he defrauded. Cung said this implied that Fox may not have been taking the process seriously, adding that Fox’s plan seems unlikely.

Contact Lillian Holmes at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LillianQHolmes.