The racketeering trial of well-known local winemaker John Olson, former owner of TeSoAria Vineyard & Winery in Roseburg, has been postponed yet again, this time just two weeks before it was scheduled to begin.
Olson’s long-awaited trial was set to begin in a Bend courtroom on Nov. 30. A pre-trial update hearing, to make sure both sides are ready, was scheduled for Nov. 24.
But on Nov. 10, Olson’s attorney filed a motion asking that the trial be delayed to provide more time for both sides to prepare for the complex case.
“As noted, the Indictment alleges eight predicate acts of Aggravated Theft and Money Laundering committed over a course of approximately three years. At issue are numerous financial transactions involving Mr. Olson, his business partners, and at least four separate business entities, all of whom were engaged in the production and sale of wine in Oregon and elsewhere,” Olson’s attorney, Todd H. Grover, wrote in the motion. “Discovery provided by the State to-date includes, among other things, thousands of pages of bank and other records that defense counsel and Mr. Olson are still reviewing and evaluating…Both parties now believe that additional time beyond the November 30 trial-setting is needed in order to adequately evaluate the evidence and related transactions, and to then be prepared to present that evidence to a jury at trial.”
Deschutes County Circuit Court Judge Wells B. Ashby granted the request to postpone the trial. A new trial date has yet to be set.
Olson, a respected winemaker known for his unique blends, including one popular red wine called Bull’s Blood, was arrested in June 2019, and his trial has already been postponed twice.
Olson founded TeSoAria in 2011 and it quickly became a favorite among wine lovers in the know. TeSoAria opened a tasting room in Portland in 2014 to glowing reviews. “Frankly, we couldn’t be happier to have them in our backyard,” one reviewer wrote.
The winery on North Curry Road in Roseburg grew quickly, but Olson took on much debt to pay for the growth. Court records show that he borrowed nearly $1 million from Oregon Pacific Bank in a two-year period from May 2014 to June 2016, and soon fell behind on repaying the loans. Oregon Pacific Bank filed a complaint in 2018 to get its money back, beginning a legal entanglement that continues to this day.
As part of an agreement to try and pay the money back, the winery was handed over to a court-appointed receivership, which took on the task of tending the vineyards and selling off hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine to help recoup some of the money owed.
Olson’s spacious home on 15 acres on Hess Lane in Roseburg was also put up for sale in order to pay off his debts. The initial listing price was $990,000, although it was later dropped to $795,000, court records show.
Olson ran into more trouble with money he got from investors, including one main investor named Thomas May, who lived in Bend. Authorities said Bend May wrote Olson several checks between 2009 and 2015 totaling about $450,000, in the form of loans and investments. Those loans were supposed to be used to purchase equipment and property for TeSoAria Vineyard & Winery. Instead, Olson “made Ponzi- style payments to other investors and he misappropriated funds from Mr. May to himself and his wife to finance their lavish lifestyle,” authorities said.
Authorities also said Olson lied about the financial condition of TeSoAria — including not telling them about the $1 million he owed to Oregon Pacific Bank — in order to get investors to support him.
Olson, 55, lives in Bandon. He was arrested in June 2019 and charged with grand theft and racketeering. He was booked into the Deschutes County jail then released on $150,000 bail, which was later reduced to $100,000.
Olson’s trial was originally scheduled for June 2020, but it was postponed due to COVID-19.
Olson was then granted permission to leave the state of Oregon twice. Once for 10 days to go on a camping trip in Montana in August, and once for a week in September to attend a wedding in Indianapolis.
A second trial date was set for February 2021, but that was also postponed.