LOS ANGELES (CN) – The strange tale of an 840-pound Brazilian emerald will be heard in a trial that starts today (Wednesday) over the ownership of a gem found in Brazil’s Bahia province that purportedly was sold for $60,000 and is now worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $400 million.
Each claimant to the emerald tells a different — almost entirely different — tale.
There are at least four claimants. One is the petitioner Kenneth Conetto, who says he owns the magnificent green rock.
The second claimants are respondents Kit Morrison and Todd Armstrong, who are expected to tell their stories at the trial.
The other claimants are intervenors Mark Downie and Anthony Thomas.
Petitioner Kenneth Conetto, represented by solo practitioner Eric Kitchen, claims that “defendant Anthony ‘Tony’ Thomas is a fraud, a con artist and thief and has no right or interest in the Bahia Emerald.”
According to Conetto’s story, a Brazilian miner, Elson Ribiero, rightfully sold the emerald to Conetto, and Conetto has the bill of sale. Conetto claims that Thomas filed a false declaration of ownership eight years after Thomas claimed to have purchased the emerald.
The petition claims that Thomas is using the emerald as a ” hostage bribe” to obtain money by making a false legal claim.
Conetto seeks $27,000 per month for delay in selling the stone.
With a stone so large and precious, it is not surprising that there is another story that accounts for its journey from the mountains of Bahia to a Brazilian carport to a storage unit in San Jose, to a Los Angeles suburb, to a vault in Las Vegas and then into storage with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
Intervenor Anthony Thomas bought the world’s largest raw emerald from Brazilian miners for about $60,000 in 2001, according to his lawyer, Jeffrey Baruh with Adleson, Hess & Kelly LLP.
Thomas says he promised the miners 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.
Thomas went to Brazil on Oct. 26, 2001, and even took pictures with the Brazilians. Then he tried to figure out how to ship his 840-pound rock to San Jose, according to his court papers.
In an interview, his lawyer said that Thomas asked airline representatives if it was possible to bring the emerald on board and put it in an overhead 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. But before he could settle the logistics, his friend, Ken Conetto, told him 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, Baruh says.
Instead of delivering the emerald to Thomas, Conetto and the Brazilian workers and other players figured that the emerald could be used as collateral for a business venture, Baruh said.
“They needed a big collateral,” he said. “And they thought the emerald would do the trick.”
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, although he is the rightful owner, because it was never physically shipped to him.
Emerging from another part of the Bahia emerald mystery story, another intervenor in the matter, gem buyer Mark Downie, claims that he is the rightful owner of the Bahia emerald.
Downie claims 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 (who now represents petitioner Conetto) 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, Conetto (the petitioner represented by Kitchen), 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 Downie’s court papers.
From there, Downie claims, emerald buyers Kit Morrison and Todd Armstrong (the original respondents named in the petition filed by Conetto) “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, as a result of the initial filing of the petition.
The respondents named in the petition, gem buyers Morrison and Armstrong, are represented by Browne Greene with Greene Broillet & Wheeler and by Daniel Balaban and Andrew Spielberger with Balaban & Spielberger.
The trial over ownership of the much-contested and well-traveled gem will be heard by Superior Court Judge Kronstadt in a bench trial of uncertain duration.