Fallen James Estate Wines chief David James on 98 charges of attempted fraud over $20 million cheque scheme

FORMER millionaire Hunter Valley vineyard owner David Anthony James has been charged with being involved in a cheque fraud scheme worth almost $20 million.

The fallen James Estate Wines boss is facing 98 counts of attempted fraud and one count of fraud.

Detectives from the Financial Crimes Squad will allege Mr James was involved in a “cheque kiting” scheme, where he deposited valueless cheques into an account and was able to draw down on uncleared funds, with a total value of $19,870,000. 

The 56-year-old was issued a future court attendance notice on Thursday afternoon and will face Newcastle Local Court on September 19.

It has been a difficult few years for the former high flyer who picked up regional exporter of the year in 2005 and 2006.

At the time, James Estate wines were sold in 25 countries throughout Europe, Asia and America. But in 2013, Mr James’ print and wine empire collapsed, leaving company debts of more than $25 million.

James Estate has been an established wine brand in the Hunter since the 1990s and still operates from a cellar door at Pokolbin and a cellar-door winery near Baerami, about 25 kilometres west of Denman.

In March 2016, police launched Strike Force Farrington to track how $5 million worth of Australia’s best wines vanished without trace amid the wreckage of the liquidated wine empire.

The collections included Granges, Henschkes and Torbrecks, with up to 300 owners.

James Estate Wines was sold in December 2014, 16 months after it was placed in receivership.

ROI Unit Trust – the purchasing vehicle for Dyldam Developments managing director Sam Fayad – bought the business.

It comprised of a vineyard, winery and cellar door operation on 575 hectares near Baerami and a winery and cellar door on 43.6 hectares in Pokolbin. The sale price was not disclosed and a workforce of 20 employees transferred to the new owner.

ACCUSED: Former Hunter Valley James Estate Wine boss David James is facing 98 counts of attempted fraud and one count of fraud due to his alleged involvement in a cheque scam valued at $20 million. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

ACCUSED: Former Hunter Valley James Estate Wine boss David James is facing 98 counts of attempted fraud and one count of fraud due to his alleged involvement in a cheque scam valued at $20 million. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

The collapse was a far cry from 2002 when James Estate Wines was named winner of the Sneddon McKeown Fastest 100 Growing Hunter Companies following growth of 1525 per cent over three years.

James Estate Wines has been recognised by Australian and international wine judges, winning 300 medals and trophies in the five years to 2005.

Mr James had no wine industry involvement until October 1997 when he made the winning $2.4 million auction bid for the Cecchini family's Serenella property, near Denman. 

Three years later, he announced an ambitious $6 million expansion plan to add 81 hectares of vines to the Upper Hunter property.