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Former Santa Barbara Winemaker Pleads Not Guilty to Embezzlement, Money Laundering

(Christian Lucas Garvin)

The former Oreana Winery manager and winemaker accused of embezzling and cheating business owners out of more than $1.3 million over a seven-year period could face up to 52 years in state prison, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

Christian Lucas Garvin, 41, of Solvang, pleaded not guilty this week to 58 felony counts of grand theft embezzlement, money laundering and failure to file correct income tax returns from 2008 to 2013.

He also faces special allegation charges for embezzling more than $1.3 million and for laundering larger sums of money.

Garvin appeared in Santa Barbara County Superior Court Tuesday, where a judge reduced his bail at County Jail from $400,000 to $260,000 under the condition that he not consume any alcohol or illegal drugs, or travel outside the county or state without court permission, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Brian Cota, who is prosecuting the case.

Garvin was also ordered to turn in his passport before posting bail and to check in with pre-trial services twice a week, Cota said. His preliminary hearing date will be determined Dec. 16. 

Garvin was arrested last Thursday in Buellton after a joint investigation by the Santa Barbara Police Department’s Property Crimes Unit, the Franchise Tax Board’s Criminal Investigation Bureau and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

Garvin was the winemaker and manager at Oreana Winery in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone from 2005 to 2013, according to SBPD Sgt. Riley Harwood.

Garvin had a 10-percent ownership stake in the business, while the remaining 90 percent belonged to Barry Goldfarb and Judy Koyama — two Los Angeles-based business partners who prompted the investigation in 2013 after conducting an audit of the company’s recordkeeping, according to the District Attorney complaint.

Garvin left his position at Oreana Winery shortly after the discovery, and the victims contacted the police, Harwood said.

Meanwhile, Garvin founded Avelina Wine Co. He was supposed to open a wine tasting room near Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. on Helena Avenue in Santa Barbara but backed out of the short-lived venture.

Harwood said police weren’t investigating Garvin’s other enterprises, to his knowledge.

An investigation into Garvin’s supposed bad bookkeeping skills and occasional discrepancies at Oreana Winery revealed Garvin had created a bank account with a name similar to one rightfully controlled by Oreana Winery without his partners’ knowledge — redirecting over $1.2 million into his personal accounts, authorities said.

The Franchise Tax Board also found Garvin filed false 2008 to 2013 state income tax returns by failing to report the embezzled funds as income.

Police obtained an arrest warrant for Garvin on Oct. 13, and he was arrested Nov. 5 while driving on Highway 246 in Buellton.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, Garvin was still in custody.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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