Man seeks withdrawal of plea in $200M wine fire

A wine keeper who pleaded guilty to setting a warehouse fire that destroyed 6 million bottles of wine valued at more than $200 million asked a judge on Tuesday to withdraw his plea and go to trial instead.

Mark Anderson, 62, told a federal judge that his former attorney, Mark Reichel, was unprepared to try his case and duped him into pleading guilty by promising a short sentence. He has yet to be sentenced.

The judge set a date for an evidentiary hearing, said Lauren Horwood, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's Office. She did not immediately know the date of that hearing.

Reichel denies the allegations and in court filings has characterized Anderson as "extremely difficult to work with" and said representing him was a "nightmare."

"Mr. Anderson routinely preferred to discuss anything other than his case," he wrote. "He desired that my time and my investigator's time be spent listening to him spin yarns with stories of all the great things he had done in his life. It was a bizarre experience."

Reichel's response was included in a filing by U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in June opposing Anderson's motion to withdraw his guilty plea.

It prompted an angry and dramatic response from Anderson.

"If one were going to ask someone to attempt to castigate, humiliate and pontificate about something he does not understand or comprehend, with all the pomposity and subtlety of a Victorian costermonger, Mr. Reichel would certainly win a penny at the circus..." Anderson wrote in July. "He threw me under the bus."

Anderson pleaded guilty in November 2009 to 19 criminal counts, including arson, mail fraud and tax evasion, in the 2005 fire on Vallejo's Mare Island. It destroyed bottles belonging to 92 wineries and 42 private collectors. Some of the wines were considered rare.

Prosecutors maintain Anderson started the fire to cover up for embezzling wine he was storing at the warehouse for clients. Anderson allegedly sold the wine without their permission.

He denied the embezzlement and arson charges and said he was not at the winery on the day of the fire.

A call to his current attorney, Jan Karowsky, was not immediately returned.