SACRAMENTO – Federal prosecutors on Monday announced a 19-count indictment against a San Francisco Bay area businessman for starting a 2005 blaze that destroyed a warehouse and six million bottles of wine.
The prosecution of wine entrepreneur Mark Anderson marks the first charges stemming from the Oct. 12, 2005, fire that burned the Wines Central warehouse on Mare Island, a former Naval base in Vallejo about 30 miles northeast of San Francisco.
It destroyed inventories from 92 wineries valued at the time at about $100 million. That included entire inventories of some small wineries, as well as some private collections of rare wines.
"Mark Anderson put lives at risk to cover his tracks," U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott told reporters during a news conference. "Due to his greed and deceit, he now faces 19 felony counts."
He was joined at the federal courthouse in Sacramento by agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Internal Revenue Service.
The charges against Anderson include arson, fraud, tax evasion, mail fraud and using a fake name. Scott said he did not expect anyone else to be charged in the warehouse blaze.
The indictment had been under seal since it was issued last Thursday by a federal grand jury in Sacramento. Anderson was arrested the next day at his home in Sausalito, a wealthy Marin County enclave across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
He appeared Monday morning before a judge in San Francisco and will remain in San Francisco County Jail until a hearing scheduled for Thursday. He will then be transferred to Sacramento, where he is expected to enter a plea.
Anderson had been under investigation since the fire, in part because he was at the warehouse when the blaze erupted. Investigators searched his home shortly afterward.
Winemakers from Napa and Sonoma counties stored wine inside the warehouse, a former submarine repair facility. It was thought to be fire-proof because of its thick concrete walls and floors.
Anderson had been storing some of his wines at Wines Central but removed most of them after being asked to do so by business managers several months before the fire.
Douglas Rappaport, Anderson's attorney at the time, denied his client was involved in the blaze. Anderson would not have had any reason to damage the building because he had removed most of his wine, he said.
Rappaport is no longer representing Anderson, and it was not immediately clear Monday whether he had retained another attorney.
Anderson also faces charges in a separate case involving his own wine-storage business, Sausalito Cellars.
He is awaiting trail on 10 felony counts of embezzlement related to missing wine valued at more than $1 million. Marin County prosecutors believe he sold rare bottles of wine to distributors from collections stored at his own facility.
On Monday, Scott suggested that Anderson's involvement in the warehouse fire might be related to the Marin County case.
"His motivation was (that) he had been embezzling wine and this was an act to cover up that embezzlement," Scott said.
That case is on hold because a further charge may be filed against him based on new evidence that was not admitted in the earlier hearing. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 27 that would bring the total embezzlement charges in the Marin County case to 11, Barry Borden, Marin County's chief deputy district attorney, said Monday.
Anderson is being represented in that case by Marin County Public Defender Eva Bennet, who did not immediately return a telephone call from The Associated Press.