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Investors paid thousands for rare wines. It was a scam, feds say.

June 20, 2022 Updated Mon., June 20, 2022 at 12:58 p.m.

By María Luisa Paúl The Washington Post

Windsor Jones’s website promises “the acquisition and sale of the world’s most illustrious and pleasurable Bordeaux investment grade fine wine.” A digital carousel showcases a selection of vino that’d make a collector red with envy. An embedded video features a master sommelier noting Bordeaux’s rich history and geography as reasons the French region’s wine has become a “commodity practically traded now like stocks and shares.”

But a new court case alleges the investment opportunity was all part of a ploy. According to an arrest affidavit, representatives for Windsor Jones, along with two other companies, Charles Winn and Vintage Whisky Casks, are accused of running an international scheme that involved cold-calling, fake names and British accents. The companies - which all purported to operate between the United States and United Kingdom - swindled more than $13 million from at least 150 people, federal investigators allege.

The five-year, two-continent saga resulted in last week’s arrest of Casey Alexander, who resides in England, on a charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Alexander is accused of working for the three companies that allegedly defrauded investors by dangling promises of high returns on their investments in rare wines and whiskeys.

An unnamed 89-year-old from Ohio and a 73-year-old from Michigan are among the scores of victims. The octogenarian dropped over $300,000 on rare dessert wines and a purported storage locker in France, according to court records. Meanwhile, the septuagenarian wired over $85,000 to Charles Winn in the hopes of receiving a potential return of up to 40% and an opportunity to tap into the Chinese market. Neither saw their supposed investments bear fruit, according to the documents.

According to investigators, Windsor Jones, Charles Winn and Vintage Whisky Casks used “aggressive and deceptive tactics” on the elderly people whose numbers they obtained. The scheme involved a complicated web of limited liability companies, investigators said, that were supposedly headquartered in the U.K. but that had been registered in Delaware back in 2017, online records show.

Victims reported being cold-called by representatives with Delaware phone numbers wielding British accents and fake names. In some cases, investigators found, they were contacted by callers “using the same name, for example ‘Elliot Stewart,’” even if they worked for different companies.

After paying a hefty price, some individuals would later consider pulling out of the investment - only to be ghosted or handed excuses by the supposed brokerage programs, according to the affidavit.

The FBI became involved in the case after the 89-year-old Ohioan reported it to police. Then, the agency began connecting his case to several others. The complaints against the companies were so widespread that they received a slew of cease-and-desist letters from securities agencies across different states, including Texas in October 2020, Washington in January 2021 and California in October 2021. But the companies ignored them, an informant told the FBI.

That informant, who worked for Charles Winn and Vintage Whisky Casks, helped investigators connect with several people who had sent checks to the company - and the agency’s warning allowed investors to void their checks and save over $466,000, according to the affidavit. However, the companies responded by persuading other individuals to send money through wire transfers, investigators said.

Starting on March 28, federal agents tapped an unidentified man from Ohio’s Cuyahoga County who had been charged in an unrelated securities fraud case to pretend to be a potential investor. In exchange for a lesser sentence, the man agreed to contact and meet with company employees, including one who was arrested by the FBI.

The unnamed employee told investigators he hadn’t done much research about the company before accepting a job while his wife was sick. With a salary of $40,000 per year, he told agents his job was to promise the people he cold-called that they’d receive huge returns on their purchases.

After connecting the FBI with the employee, the Cuyahoga County informant tipped off investigators that Alexander would be traveling from England to Ohio. The two met, and Alexander did a sales pitch for whiskey investments - telling him that the company’s employees “would only get paid 10% of the profit after the whiskey matured and was sold to third parties.”

But an FBI record review showed that all of the money in Vintage Whisky Casks’ U.K. bank account could be traced back to American investors. According to federal authorities, the records showed that Alexander was registered as the business’s officer and that he had received $33,000 from that account.

Alexander was arrested by the FBI on June 14. His attorney, John Spellacy, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post late Sunday. Court records show Alexander was released after posting a $50,000 bond.

Under the conditions of his release, Alexander - whose calls were decried as incessant and “pushy”- is prohibited from contacting “any person who is or may be a victim.”

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