$2.9 Million Stolen From Investors In Failed Vodka Scheme
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$2.9 Million Stolen From Investors In Failed Vodka and Sparkling Wine Scheme


The purchase of a vodka company sits at the center of a failed multimillion-dollar scheme to defraud investors. (Photo: Salute American Vodka)

In Madison, Connecticut, a federal district court handed down a 30-month prison sentence to a man who stole nearly $3 million from friends and family in an attempt to purchase two alcohol companies.

The FBI arrested Brian Hughes, 58, while he was reportedly living under a bridge and drinking half a gallon of vodka a day after the failed scheme.

The story began in 2015, when Hughes founded Handcrafted Brands of Branford, Conn. with the intent of raising funds to purchase Salute American Vodka, a New York-based distillery that donates proceeds to veteran charities.

Hughes successfully convinced dozens of local investors to buy in, allowing him to purchase Salute Vodka in 2016 for $450,000. Despite the purchase, Hughes reportedly continued to collect investments for the acquisition, allowing him to pay off $150,000 in taxes and credit card expenses and additional hundreds of thousands in personal expenses.

Later, Hughes attempted to solicit investments for a sparkling wine company named only “Company-1” in court documents. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Hughes had no connection to the unnamed brand and no capacity to raise capital on its behalf. At this point, the prosecution said, there was no serious business intent for the collected funds.

Of the $2.9 million that was eventually raised, prosecutors say that Hughes spent $1.3 million on himself. Hughes reportedly funneled money into accounts opened in his and his wife’s name and even purchased a gym.

Hughes was arrested on January 2021. In court, he attributed his crimes to alcohol use disorder.

“I was living a complete lie,” said Hughes in court. “I was not who I pretended to be. My self-deception had me detached from reality.”

In addition to his 30-month sentence, Hughes was ordered to repay $2.9 million to investors and an additional $470,000 in unpaid taxes to the IRS.

To this day, Handcrafted Brands is still listed as the owner of Salute Brand Vodka.

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Pedro Wolfe is the managing editor of Tequila Raiders. With several years of experience writing for the New York Daily News and the Foothills Business Daily under his belt, Pedro aims to combine quality reviews and recipes with incisive articles on the cutting edge of the tequila world. Pedro has traveled to the heartland of the spirits industry in Tequila, Mexico, and has conducted interviews with agave spirits veterans throughout Mexico, South Africa and California. Through this diverse approach, Tequila Raiders aims to celebrate not only tequila but the rich tapestry of agave spirits that spans mezcal, raicilla, bacanora, pulque and so much more.