A 203-year-old wine retailer and auction house in New York City, Acker Merrall Condit, has agreed to pay a $100,000 fine to settle charges of selling counterfeit bottles of Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain bourbon at a price of $1,000 each.
Despite the sloppy business practices and employees’ involvement in the scandal, no one has been fired by the company.
The details of the case were revealed in the monthly meeting of the New York State Liquor Authority commissioners on February 1st.
Acker Merrall Condit, which specializes in selling rare and expensive wines, is owned by wine expert John Kapon, who conducts tastings and auctions of prestigious wines such as Lafite Rothschild and Domaine Romanee Conti for thousands of dollars per bottle.
At the hearing, the company’s lawyer, Kevin Danow, confirmed that Acker Merrall Condit is accepting responsibility for the scheme.
“That’s not going to go on anymore,” Danow said, noting that the shop recently hired its first in-house counsel, a former Sotheby’s attorney – Stacey Chervin Sigda – who “instituted the record keeping that was missing.”
SLA Commissioner Vincent Bradley expressed disbelief and questioned whether the employees who purchased the counterfeit bourbon were still employed at the wine retailer located on West 72nd St.
“There was clear fraud here or at least a large potential for fraud,” Bradley told Acker’s attorneys at the hearing, a video recording of which was viewed by The Post.
Store employees “were going out with their own money, buying from private collections and reselling it to the liquor store, but not telling the liquor store what they paid for it,” Bradley added.
In addition, the commissioner inquired whether Acker had discovered how much the employees paid for the counterfeit bourbon.
Danow answered “No.”
“The employees you are talking about,” Danow said, “have been disciplined” and “retrained,” adding that the state investigation “frankly scared the hell out of them.”
Danow told the SLA, “we believe Acker was targeted,” but didn’t elaborate.
Acker Merrall Condit was penalized for engaging in five unauthorized transactions with whiskey sellers in 2020 and 2021, and for failing to maintain proper records. The bottles sold were filled with subpar bourbon and falsely marketed as a highly sought-after Buffalo Trace Kentucky whiskey.
Laboratory tests conducted by the distiller confirmed that the bottles, which lacked lot codes and proper cardboard tube packaging, were not genuine, according to an Inside Edition report.
Under New York alcohol laws, it is prohibited for an individual to purchase wine or spirits from a private collection unless the alcohol is being acquired on behalf of a licensed business, as explained by SLA spokesman Joshua Heller to The Post.
“It’s not legal what the [Acker] employees did,” he added, “but it’s a little bit gray whether they were acting as agents for the company.”
According to experts, the fine imposed on Acker Merrall Condit is noteworthy as most fines imposed by the SLA typically range between $2,000 and $10,000, and Acker offered to pay the hefty sum voluntarily.
“What anyone does if they are concerned that they might lose their license is offer a settlement to ensure that the license isn’t cancelled,” liquor license attorney Max Bookman told The Post. “They could have lost their license over that,” Bookman added.
The Post’s attempts to reach out to Danow for comment were unsuccessful and Acker did not respond to calls or emails.
This scandal is not the only one to hit New York’s respected wine stores recently. As previously reported by The Post, Sherry-Lehmann has been sued for not delivering costly wines to customers and owes millions of dollars in back taxes to the state.
The issue of counterfeit bourbon is becoming more prevalent as demand for expensive bourbon increases, and fraudsters develop new tactics, such as refilling used bottles of expensive bourbon with a cheaper product. Acker Merrall Condit, however, has said very little about the fake bourbon they sold.
In a statement issued in 2021, the company acknowledged a possible authentication issue with a specific bottling of Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain Bourbon obtained from a private collector.
The company conducted a private investigation and removed all the suspect bottles from their shelves. They also refunded all customers who had purchased the bottles prior to the recall, except for one bottle mentioned in the Inside Edition story. Acker has not commented further on the matter, however.