John Fox, who is serving six years and a half years in federal prison for defrauding his Premier Cru clients out of $45 million in wine, is the featured subject on a Monday episode of TV show American Greed.
The CNBC television show examines how Fox built up a successful retail and online wine business in Berkeley, only to find it crashing down around him as a Ponzi scheme he created unraveled. Berkeleyside chronicled the extraordinary story from the start, breaking many of the revelations, and Berkeleyside co-founder Frances Dinkelspiel was asked to take part in the show.
Fox had been well-known for offering wine futures at unbeatable prices. This allowed him to collect money up front from clients, who did not expect to see their wines for months or even years.
Fox funneled about $5 million of those funds into his own bank accounts. He spent about $900,000 on meeting women online, bought a multi-million home in Alamo, joined two golf courses, had numerous fast cars and luxury vehicles, and paid for his daughter’s college tuition with the ill-gotten money.
Fox would not deliver the wine to his clients and would put them off repeatedly by promising the wines would be delivered in the next shipment from overseas.
In the end, as American Greed points out, the scammer got scammed. Fox connected with a young woman in Seattle, who then threatened to reveal their affair to his wife unless she was paid thousands of dollars.
After the FBI started investigating Fox and Premier Cru in 2015, they asked Fox to surreptitiously tape his phone conversations with the young woman. Federal authorities recommended that Fox only get a sentence of six years because of his cooperation. The young woman, Seul Ki Yum, has been charged with four counts of extortion.
Berkeley is moving ahead to buy the now vacant Premier Cru property at 1011 University Ave. with a view to hold City Council meetings, and then building affordable housing, there.
Fox, 61, is serving his time at the Federal Correctional Institution Lompoc, a medium-security prison in southern California.
The show airs on CNBC at 7 p.m. on Aug. 7 and at other times.