Vallejo suspect changes plea in wine arson case

November 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Mark C. Anderson pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Sacramento this afternoon to a 19-count federal indictment in connection with a 2005 arson that destroyed millions of bottles of wine at a warehouse in Vallejo.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Lapham said the prosecution and Anderson, 61, of Sausalito, agreed to a 15-year, eight-month prison term. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 26.

The U.S. Attorney's Office also agreed to cap at $200 million the value of the 6 million bottles lost when the Wines Central warehouse burned on Oct. 12, 2005.

Lapham said the value of the wine lost in the fire was probably "way beyond that" but it would be difficult to determine.

"This was just a devastating loss not just to his clients but to the wine industry in general," Lapham said.

Anderson was indicted March 15, 2007, for arson, mail fraud, tax evasion use of a fictitious name and interstate transportation of fraudulently obtained property.

His attorney Mark Reichel said this afternoon Anderson faced life in prison if he were convicted of all 19 charges after a trial.

Lapham said the maximum sentence according to sentencing statutes for all 19 counts is between 150 and 200 years in prison but Anderson would likely have received 24 to 27 years in prison if convicted at trial.

Reichel said Anderson agreed to the plea agreement in hopes of having some years of his life left to enjoy when he is released from prison.

Prosecutors said Anderson rented space in the Wines Central warehouse on Mare Island to store expensive wines for his clients, including wine collectors, for a monthly fee.

Instead of storing the wine, Anderson tried to sell it without his clients' permission for his personal gain, prosecutors said. To conceal what he had done, the prosecution alleged, Anderson started the fire at the 240,000-square-foot warehouse.

The fire started in an area of the warehouse where Anderson stored the wine and he was present around the time the fire started, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The indictment also alleges Anderson failed to pay $290,623 in federal income tax between 2001 and 2004 when he earned $808,952.

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