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Gem Buyer’s Wife Testifies at Emerald Trial

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Bahia emerald trial resumed Wednesday with the testimony of the gem buyer's wife that she was more worried that her husband spent money on an emerald instead of buying a new house than on the details of the transaction. "My concern was how much money my husband has spent," Wendi Thomas said.

Representing investors Kit Morrison, Todd Armstrong and Jerry Ferrara, Browne Greene cross-examined Thomas, whose husband, Anthony "Tony" Thomas, is one of many parties laying claim to the 840-pound emerald.

Greene asked Wendi what her husband told her about the massive emerald. She said that once Thomas returned from Bahia to San Jose in 2001, he told her that he bought the emerald and was going to go back to Brazil to bring it back.

"You don't recall any terms of the transaction or anything like that?" Greene asked.

"No," Wendi answered. "My concern was how much money my husband has spent."

She said she knew her husband had $100,000 in cash and paid for the emerald.

"That's one of the reasons you were angry, right?" Greene asked.

Wendi agreed.

"I never liked Ken Conetto," she said, referring to another gem buyer who claims to own the massive emerald. "I didn't know if I didn't like him, but I didn't trust him."

Conetto was Tony's friend and the emerald agent who introduced Tony to the Bahia emerald. Conetto already settled with Morrison, Armstrong and Ferrara, who promised him a cut of the emerald sale.

On Tuesday, Tony testified that he thought Conetto, Ferrara and possibly others intentionally burned down house, along with the bill of sale that could prove Tony owned the gem. The fire was purportedly triggered by someone cooking green beans on the stove.

Greene asked Wendi whether the green beans caused the fire, and she said she didn't know.

"Now did he ever tell you that someone else, Larry Biegler, Mr. Ferrara, anyone else was lurking around to inspire fire around the house?" Greene asked, referring to Wendi's husband.

Wendi said no. She recalled an incident when a tidy-looking man with a new BMW was taking pictures of their garage where the bill of sale for the Bahia emerald was filed in Tony's fire-proof cabinet. Seeing the man from the veranda, she said she yelled and asked what he was doing. He then took pictures of her and drove off in his BMW, she said.

She said she didn't think much of it until she saw a picture of Ferrara and told her husband that Ferrara looked like the man she saw taking pictures of their garage.

"I'm not 100 percent sure, but he just looks like the same man," Wendi said.

When Greene asked her if she knew whether Tony reported the arson to any fire or police department, she said she didn't know.

Earlier in the day, her husband's lawyer, Jeffrey Baruh, finished his examination of Tony.

Tony said he had an oral agreement with Brazilian miner Elson Riviera that he would buy the world's largest emerald. Tony said Conetto urged him to buy the Bahia emerald.

"He said, 'I think you should buy it,'" Tony said. "After I saw it, I liked it and wanted it for myself."

"What did the Brazilians explain on September 28, 2001 was the basis for the $60,000 asking price?" Baruh asked.

"They said this is three times bigger than the ones they previously sold me," Tony answered. He said the Brazilian miner charged him $60,000 for the 840-pound emerald, which is reportedly worth about $800 million. Tony also bought a 50-pound emerald for $20,000, though it's estimated to be worth around $400,000.

Presiding Judge John Kronstadt repeatedly asked the lawyers to focus their questions.

"Let's focus on this witness's percipient knowledge," he said.

At one point, the court reporter stopped typing because Tony's cell phone rang, and then continued to vibrate in his bag.

A trial date has not yet been set for gem buyer Mark Downie, another litigant in the legal battle over the world's largest emerald. His lawyer, Steven Haney, was not available for comment.

"So far, things are going well for us," said Andrew Spielberger, a lawyer for Morrison and Armstrong. "I might bring the motion to bring claims against Thomas."

Spielberger suggested that a settlement between Tony and his clients might be possible, but stressed that "it takes two reasonable people on each side of the table for a settlement."

The 840-pound emerald is locked safely in the Los Angeles County Sherriff's vault as the trial over who owns the giant gem plays out in court.

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