Who Owns the $34 Million Jade Artifact?

     SAN DIEGO (CN) – A dispute between an evangelism group and the federal government over a $34 million jade artifact seized in an investigation is heating up in Federal Court.
     Several parties claim ownership of the ancient jade artifact, a puzzle depicting a Chinese emperor, according to court documents.
     Morris Cerullo World Evangelism sued the United States on June 6, demanding return of the seized property.
     On June 24, the United States filed a complaint in interpleader, asking the court to determine who owns the object: the Cerullo organization or any of three other claimants, two of whom have sued the third, in a tangled situation including allegations of crime, a $3.5 million loan, a gold mine and wire fraud.
     Federal investigators seized the jade in March 2013 while investigating Christopher Hammatt, “in connection with Hammatt’s handling of U.S. Treasury Bonds and other matters,” according to the complaint in interpleader.
     The Secret Service agent in charge of the investigation, Special Agent Gee, determined that Hammatt had given the jade to Morris Cerullo World Evangelism, a San Diego-based nonprofit, as collateral for a $3.5 million loan for his business partner Larry T. Sorensen, a Utah businessman who wanted to buy land to mine gold in Utah.
     Sorensen defaulted on the loan and Morris Cerullo was left with the jade artifact.
     In its June 6 motion for return of seized property, Cerullo claimed that because the Secret Service investigation was over, and there is no need to retain the jade as evidence of a crime, it should be returned. Cerullo says it was not charged with any wrongdoing in the Secret Service investigation.
     However, in June 2015, CBS Enterprises LLC and its owner Allen Myers sued Sorenson in Utah and filed a “Transfer of Ownership & Title” document in Salt Lake County Court as evidence of ownership.
     In the Feb. 8, 2010 document, with Sorensen’s notarized signature, Sorenson claims to own the jade and to transfer its ownership to CBS Enterprises, according to the complaint in interpleader.
     Sorensen agrees that CBS and Meyers have “current valid ownership interests in the jade artifact,” but he reserves the right to dispute the “proportion and amount” of CBS’ and Meyers’ ownership interests, including unresolved issues of “appropriate arrangements for related control, possession and disposition of the jade artifact,” according to the United States.
     The jade artifact will be deposited with the clerk of the Federal Court in San Diego, until judgment is reached, essentially excusing the United States from being involved in the property dispute.
     The U.S. Attorney’s Office said it does not comment on pending litigation.
     Morris Cerullo is represented by Steven Blake with Galuppo & Blake, who declined comment.

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