Photo: Matt Kettmann (file)

Santa Barbara District Attorney John Savrnoch announced in a press release Wednesday that approximately 2,000 bottles of wine and other alcohol illegally possessed by Ocean Fathoms and its principals, Emanuele Azzaretto and Todd Hahn, were disposed of with assistance from the City of Santa Barbara and the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages Control. Azzaretto and Hahn initially entered a plea deal on July 17 to misdemeanor charges including selling alcohol without a license, aiding and abetting investor fraud, and “illegally discharging material into waters of the United States.”

The plea agreement included the destruction of the bottles, which were illegally possessed for sale by Ocean Fathoms, Hahn, and Azzaretto; in totality, their now-destructed inventory was estimated to be worth several hundred thousand dollars. In addition, the pair and their company are on probation that prevents them from operating their business and are required to pay $50,000 in restitution to an investor they defrauded. 

According to the District Attorney’s Office, Ocean Fathoms was founded by Azzaretto and Hahn in 2017 when they started sinking crates of wine one mile off the Santa Barbara coast. However, according to Savrnoch, the company neglected to obtain any required permits from the California Coastal Commission or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to sink their crates in the seafloor. After a year — “just long enough for a reef ecosystem to develop in the crates and on the bottles,” Savrnoch said — the crates were removed and the bottles were sold for as much as $500 each. 

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined Ocean Fathoms’ wine to be “adulterated, and not fit for human consumption, because it was submerged in the ocean and potentially contaminated.” Hahn and Azzaretto sold the wine without required federally approved labeling, an alcohol sales permit, or a valid business license. Furthermore, Ocean Fathoms was collecting sales tax from its customers, which was never paid in taxes to the State of California. The District Attorney also stated the company advertised to consumers that a portion of their profits were donated to a local environment nonprofit, yet no evidence was found suggesting such donations were made. 

In the statement, District Attorney Savrnoch said: “This case involved individuals who operated with complete disregard for our consumer and environmental laws. The California Coastal Commission referred the case to our Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit and, because of the broad scope of violations, we investigated with the help of five state and local agencies. The case highlights the importance of our office’s relationship with outside agencies and it demonstrates our commitment to holding companies and individuals accountable for violating all types of consumer and environmental laws.”


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