A wine merchant in the US is set to plead guilty to owing millions of dollars to his clients. Ronald Phillip Wallace, 47, originally pleaded not guilty in November last year to selling bogus wines and wine futures, but is to change his plea in the next few weeks, federal prosecutors said yesterday (14 June).

In the agreement, filed yesterday, Wallace has admitted to defrauding clients of his Colorado-based online and mail order business, Rare LLC, between 2000 and 2003. Money that was sent to him to purchase popular wines or wine futures was allegedly used to pay off old deposits.

In most cases, officials said, Rare LLC never obtained or owned the wines it was supposed to be buying for clients.

"While Wallace plied his trade in the rarified world of wine connoisseurs, in the end he turned out to be nothing more than a common huckster," US Attorney Debra Wong Yang said in a statement.

When Wallace's scheme collapsed in March 2003, clients claimed they were owed as much as US$13m in wine. Wallace and the government agreed he would be held liable for more than US$2.5m, but how much each victim is owed must still be determined, the US Attorney said.

Wallace has agreed to pay restitution to his victims.