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Santa Barbara commandeers and destroys illegally submerged wine bottles; perpetrators accept plea deal

Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office announced Wednesday that, in accordance with a plea agreement, it destroyed 2,000 bottles of wine and other alcohol illegally possessed for sale in connection with an illegal underwater wine aging and sale operation.

Ocean Fathoms, also known as 50 Fathoms LLC., and its principles, Emanuele Azzaretto and Todd Hahn, pled to three misdemeanor criminal charges including a violation of the Water Code for illegally discharging material into the water of the United States, selling alcohol without a license, and aiding and abetting investor fraud.

The alcohol was disposed of at one of Santa Barbara's wastewater treatment plants and the associated glass bottles were transported for recycling.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office detail that beginning in 2017, Hahn and Azzaretto began sinking crates of wine one mile off the coast of Santa Barbara without obtaining any required permits from the California Coastal Commission nor the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The images below come from an after-the-fact authorization request made by Ocean Fathoms with the California Coastal Commission in 2021.

Each crate was left on the sea floor for one year, just long enough for a reef ecosystem to develop in and on the crates and bottles, and then removed, sea life and all, to be sold for as much as $500 a bottle detail Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office alleged in their complaint that nearly every aspect of this business was conducted in violation of state or federal law.

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration considered the wine adulterated, and not fit for human consumption due to potential contamination while submerged.

The wine was also sold without any of the required federally-approved labeling and Ocean Fathoms was selling the wine without an ABC alcohol sales permit and without a valid business license.

Additionally, Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office relay that the company was also collecting sales tax from its customers without ever paying those taxes to the State of California.

Ocean Fathoms also advertised that it was donating a portion of its profits to a local environmental nonprofit, but no evidence of any donation was ever discovered detail Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office.

In addition to the destruction of the sunken inventory worth several hundred thousand dollars, the plea agreement also required Ocean Fathoms, Azzaretto, and Hahn to be on probation and pay $50,000 in restitution to one of their investors.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney John T. 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.”

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
50 Fathoms LLC.
ABC license
crime and courts
food and beverage safety
illegal business
illegal underwater wine aging
Ocean Fathoms
Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office
unlicensed business

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Andrew Gillies

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