New Details in Winemaker Embezzlement Case

Christian Garvin Faces 52 Years in Prison for Allegedly Stealing $1.6 Million

Christian Garvin (far right) sits in court next to defense attorney Stephen Dunkle (center) and prosecutor Brian Cota. (Nov. 10, 2015)
Paul Wellman

Prominent Santa Barbara winemaker Christian Garvin faces 52 years in prison for allegedly stealing more than $1.6 million from his two Los Angeles business partners, court records released Tuesday show. He was arrested November 4 and remains in custody in County Jail.

Garvin, a former manager and minority owner of Oreana Winery, is charged with 58 felony counts of embezzlement, money laundering, and tax fraud. Prosecutors say between July 2006 and June 2013 he funneled a portion of Oreana’s profits to two personal bank accounts that he hid from his partners, Barry Goldfarb and Judy Koyama. Since the winery’s creation in 2004, Garvin frequently presented himself as its sole proprietor. In reality he owned a 10% share with Goldfarb holding 86% and Koyama 4%.

Oreana earned an estimated $3 million to $5 million a year between 2006 and 2013 thanks to dozens of local business customers, including big buyers like Trader Joe’s. Goldfarb and Koyama left the company’s management and bookkeeping to Garvin, who Goldfarb “treated and trusted like a son,” court records state. Garvin, 41, also ran the company’s tasting room in the Funk Zone and was often featured in media coverage of regional wine labels. He graduated from UCSB in 1996 and has lived in the Santa Barbara area since.

Goldfarb and Koyama contacted detectives in March 2014 with concern that Garvin had embezzled as much as $200,000 from the company. Initially, they told police, they attributed the financial discrepancies to Garvin’s drinking and drug problems. Only when investigators with the District Attorney’s Office started looking into his bank accounts did they find how much he truly stole, authorities say. Soon after the investigation began, Garvin left Oreana. Officials have so far declined to elaborate how Garvin spent the stolen funds, though he had invested at least some of the money.

Back in 2009, Garvin was arrested for boating under the influence. His blood-alcohol level at the time was 0.24, more than three times the legal limit. Cocaine was also detected in his system. In 2014, he was arrested for a DUI-related “wet and reckless” offense. Prosecutor Brian Cota has also alluded to a heroin addiction in Garvin’s recent past.

Cota argued Tuesday in front of Judge Clifford Anderson that Garvin is a flight risk and that his bail should be increased from $400,000 to $650,000. Cota stated Garvin has expressed a desire to move to Australia with his girlfriend, who’s a citizen there, and that he has few remaining ties to Santa Barbara after a “series of failed entrepreneurial ventures.” The lengthy prison term he faces is also an incentive to leave the country, Cota said.

After working at Fess Parker Winery in the 1990s, Garvin cofounded Kahn Winery in Los Olivos, which has since closed. After he left Oreana — he told friends and reporters that he had sold the business, when in fact Goldfarb and Koyama bought him out — Garvin helped create Avelina Winery. It opened to much fanfare in the Funk Zone’s Anacapa Project but disappeared in January 2014 after just four months of operation. Garvin said he was looking forward to moving the label to North County, though that never occurred. More recently, he’s worked at Lost Point Winery in Solvang.

Garvin’s defense attorney, Stephen Dunkle, countered in court that Garvin’s bail should be reduced, not raised, and argued his client was in no way a flight risk. He asked Judge Anderson if and when Garvin is released from jail on bond, he be able to drink alcohol, given his profession. Dunkle also credited Garvin for remaining in town even as the investigation got underway, explaining “He’s chosen to deal with [the charges.]” Cota noted Garvin had repeatedly failed to appear for scheduled meetings with detectives. “In fact, he actively delayed [the investigation],” Cota said. Cota also claimed Garvin wiped his computer of incriminating evidence before it was seized by authorities.

Anderson agreed Garvin was a flight risk, so should he bail out, he must turn over his passport, not leave Santa Barbara County without express permission from the court, check in with the court every Monday and Friday, and completely abstain from alcohol and drugs. Anderson did, however, reduce his bail to $260,000. Dunkle said Garvin’s stepfather was prepared to pay the full bond amount with a cashier’s check.

Garvin has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is scheduled to appear in court again next month.


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