Judge rejects man’s claim to emerald
Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2011 8:01 pm
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge tentatively dismissed a California businessman’s claim to an 840-pound emerald, saying his story about paying Brazilian miners $60,000 for the gigantic gem that was later stolen was simply not credible.
Superior Court Judge John A. Kronstadt said in a 48-page ruling that it appeared Tony Thomas changed his testimony throughout the trial to improve his chances of prevailing, and that many of his assertions simply defied logic.
Among them, the judge said, was his statement that he had no proof of ownership because someone deliberately burned his Morgan Hill house to the ground to destroy his only copy of the bill of sale.
“The court did not find Thomas to be a credible witness on these key points,” Kronstadt said in the ruling issued Friday in the lawsuit by Thomas.
Thomas and his attorney Jeffrey A. Baruh did not immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages asking if they planned to appeal.
The judge said he would not make his ruling final until giving Thomas a reasonable time to lodge any objections. Kronstadt didn’t provide a deadline.
Even if Thomas objects, the question of who owns the Bahia Emerald, which has an appraised value as high as $900 million, is far from resolved.
Two other competing claims remain, and Kronstadt said he would take those up later. The judge has said he decided to hear the competing lawsuits claiming ownership separately to ensure fairness to all parties as well as expedite the case.
Among the remaining claims is one from a group of people who say they received the emerald as collateral for a $1.3 million shipment of diamonds they paid for but never received.
The Bahia, one of the world’s largest emeralds, has had a long, circuitous journey since Thomas had himself photographed with it in a carport in Brazil in 2001.
Later, it was said to have been stored at a warehouse in New Orleans that was flooded during Hurricane Katrina then stolen from another warehouse in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte. It was sighted briefly in Idaho before authorities finally seized it in Las Vegas in 2008. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is safeguarding it until the ownership dispute is resolved.
During a trial that began last September and was delayed several times, Thomas testified that he paid $60,000 to the Brazilian miners who dug it up. He said he had previously paid $20,000 for four smaller Brazilian stones, including a 50-pound emerald that he still owns.
Unlike that gem, the Bahia was too big to carry onto an airplane, so Thomas said he returned home to Morgan Hill and wired the money to the Brazilians. Months later, he said, they told him the shipper had lost it.
In his ruling, the judge noted Thomas never insured the valuable stone or contacted the shipper to try to recover it.
Kronstadt also cast doubt on Thomas’ explanation that someone burned down his house to destroy his bill of sale. Firefighters have concluded the fire was caused by a house sitter leaving a pot of beans unattended on a stove while Thomas was out of town.
Published in The Messenger 4.14.11