General Crime

Martin Edwards formerly vice president of the WineTasting Network accused of embezzling nearly $900,000

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A former executive of a Napa-based wine company who was accused of embezzling nearly $900,000 has pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco to one count of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion. Martin Edwards, 48, of Napa, was formerly vice president of the WineTasting Network, an online wine marketing company.

He entered the guilty plea on Tuesday before U.S. District Judge William Alsup and will be sentenced by Alsup on Aug. 5. U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said Edwards admitted in a written plea agreement to siphoning off approximately $894,000 from the wine company to a fictitious entity he called the Dufrane Compliance Trust.

Haag said Edwards admitted that he told wine company employees that the payments to Dufrane were for tax compliance services, but that he in fact used the money for personal expenses, including purchase of a BMW car, vacations, meals and a cruise. Edwards, who was indicted on May 30, 2103, failed to show up for his first court appearance on June 17.

He was apprehended in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and deported to the United States in January, according to the FBI. The mail fraud conviction carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and the tax evasion count has a maximum of five years. The wine marketing company was bought in January by TSG-The Synesthesia Group, based in St. Louis.

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