Fireworks came early to a San Antonio, Texas, courtroom when federal Judge Fred Biery berated financier Charles Banks on Wednesday for his nonchalance in taking millions from recently retired Spurs star Tim Duncan. Banks, the majority owner of Santa Barbara County’s Qupé Winery and Mattei’s Tavern, had convinced Duncan to sign a $6 million loan guarantee for Gameday Entertainment after getting $7.5 million from him earlier. According to Ann Marsh of FinancialPlanning.com, one witness stated Banks used Gameday “like an ATM machine,” taking for himself or businesses he controlled as much as $5.39 million. Part of the evidence was an email from Banks to Duncan claiming he’d received no commission or payments for the deals: “That’s a lie,” the judge emphasized, according to Marsh.
What had raised Biery’s ire were the more than 100 letters he’d received from Banks’s friends and relatives, including his mother, asking for leniency. Biery asked Banks where his mother got the idea that he’d done nothing wrong to Duncan. “‘I did not ask my mother to write a letter, your honor,’” Banks said in a low voice,” Marsh relates in her article. For his part, Duncan expressed embarrassment for being the “poster child for the dumb athlete whose financial adviser took his money” and asked the judge not to give Banks a light sentence.
Banks — one of the original investors in Santa Ynez Valley’s Jonata and Lompoc’s Sandhi wineries, and a current owner of Napa’s storied Mayacamas Winery — had pled guilty to wire fraud in April. Biery sentenced Banks to four years in prison and to pay $7.5 million to Duncan.
Banks’s plea and now conviction are causing complications with his wine partners. Mayacamas co-owner Jay Schottenstein and family are suing him for breach of duty, according to the Wine Spectator, and asking him to step down as president out of a worry over his effect on their winery licenses. Banks had run the wine companies through Terroir Life, which stated it was unaffected by his personal legal troubles, wrote the wine journal, as Banks had left the CEO position in April.
The conviction means Banks’s licenses are under review, said Jon Carr, a spokesperson with California’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) department, through his association with Mayacamas, Wind Gap wines of Sebastopol, Cultivate Wines in St. Helena, and Mattei’s Tavern. Depending on the type of conviction, a “crime involving moral turpitude” — outside of petty theft — could result in license revocation or other disciplinary action, according to the department’s Penalty Guidelines, as does a “hidden or undisclosed owner.” Carr stated Banks did not turn up in a search through ABC’s database in connection with Terroir or Qupé, though he could be “a downstream owner.”
Terroir also owns a majority share in New Zealand’s Trinity Hill Winery. The country’s government has questioned Banks’s “good character,” Wine Spectator reported, and may remove him from that winery’s partnership.