LOS ANGELES (CN) – The strange tale of an 840-pound Brazilian emerald will be sorted out in an upcoming trial to determine who owns the gem, which was bought from miners in Brazil’s Bahia province for $60,000 and is now worth $400 million, according to one of the litigants. As the gem traveled from a Brazilian carport to a San Jose storage site to a Los Angeles suburb and then to a vault in Las Vegas, one of the claimants tried to put the massive stone in his overhead luggage compartment but was denied by airline officials.
The would-be buyer, Anthony Thomas, originally bought the world’s largest raw emerald, estimated to be worth $400 million, from Brazilian miners for about $60,000 in 2001, according to his lawyer, Jeffrey Baruh with Adleson, Hess & Kelly LLP.
In a lawsuit in Superior Court, Thomas claims he held the gem’s title at the time and received a sale document a month later.
He allegedly promised the miners that he would go to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to pick up the emerald from Antonio’s Carport, where the emerald would be securely locked in a gated room.
Baruh says Thomas went to Brazil on Oct. 26, 2001, and even took pictures with the Brazilians. Thomas then tried to figure out how to ship his 840-pound rock to San Jose.
Thomas allegedly asked airline representatives if it was possible to bring the emerald on board and put it in an overheard compartment, but they refused. Baruh says the airline also refused to let Thomas check the emerald as luggage.
So Thomas decided to ship the emerald to San Jose, Calif.
But before he could settle the logistics, his friend, Ken Conetto, told him that they needed to fly back to the United States immediately, because Conetto’s mother was sick and his sister had left their mother by herself. Baruh says Conetto promised Thomas that he would deliver the massive stone to him.
But the emerald never arrived, according to Baruh.
Instead of delivering the emerald to Thomas, Conetto, the Brazilian workers and other players figured that the emerald could be used as collateral for a business venture, Baruh says.
“They needed a big collateral,” he said. “And they thought the emerald would do the trick. Or so they thought.”
A tale was spun for Thomas, who was told that the emerald was stolen at the shipping point in Brazil, according to Baruh. The lawyer claims Thomas never received the emerald, even though he is the rightful owner, because it was never physically shipped to him.
With a stone so large and so precious, it is not surprising that there is another story to its pedigree and current ownership.
An intervenor in the matter, emerald buyer Mark Downie, claims that he is the rightful owner of the Bahia emerald.
He says that in January 2005, Gemworks Mining Treasurer Loren Nowell contacted him for a loan.
According to his court papers, Downie agreed to loan $81,000 based on a promise by Gemworks Mining official Eric Kitchen that Downie “would receive 10 times his investment as part of the terms of the agreement for a share of the profits obtained from the loan proceeds.”
Kitchen allegedly told Downie that he would use the loan to store the emerald in the Delaware Depository for three months and needed the rest for airplane trips, shipping expenses and other expenses.
But Downie claims Kitchen used the loan money to ship the emerald from Bahia to a plywood and lumber sales office space in San Jose.
At this point, Thomas’s ex-friend, Conetto, re-enters the saga by directing his sales agent, Larry Biegler, to move the Bahia Emerald from San Jose to El Monte, a Latino residential suburb of Los Angeles, according to the lawsuit.
From there, Downie claims, emerald buyers Kit Morrison and Todd Armstrong “took possession of the emerald from the El Monte vaulting facility and moved the emerald to a facility in Las Vegas, Nevada.”
Ultimately, members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office took the emerald from Las Vegas to Los Angeles for safekeeping with the sheriff.
At a hearing to establish ownership of the emerald earlier this summer, Superior Court Judge Kronstadt denied Thomas’s motion for a declaration of ownership. The trial over ownership of the 840-pound gem is scheduled for early September.