Tus­sle over 840-pound emer­ald moves to court

Los Angeles Times - - Latextra - Vic­to­ria Kim

The 840-pound emer­ald be­came his, An­thony Thomas says, when he forked over $60,000 to a pair of Brazil­ian min­ers back in 2001.

He may never have phys­i­cally re­ceived the be­he­moth, but the proof was on a piece of paper filled out at a ho­tel party, since de­stroyed in a house fire. He didn’t bother no­ta­riz­ing doc­u­ments or memo­ri­al­iz­ing agree­ments, the San Jose busi­ness­man says — that’s just the way the Brazil­ians did busi­ness.

Nine years later, Thomas stands among at least half a dozen men claim­ing own­er­ship of the gi­ant stone, known as the Bahia Emer­ald. Thomas took the stand Fri­day in the first day of a trial in the le­gal dis­pute over the gem, one of the largest of its kind, val­ued at one point at $372 mil­lion.

“Mr. Thomas is the only per­son who has ever paid a cent for the Bahia Emer­ald,” his at­tor­ney, Jef­frey Baruh, told Los An­ge­les County Su-

Emer­ald,

pe­rior Court Judge John Kron­stadt. The terms un­der which his client bought the stone were “very straight­for­ward,” he ar­gued.

Attorneys for the oth­ers claim­ing own­er­ship of the emer­ald con­tended that Thomas’ story was lu­di­crous and in­con­sis­tent.

“His story is in­her­ently un­be­liev­able,” at­tor­ney Steven Haney told the judge, say­ing that Thomas was sim­ply try­ing to “throw his hat in the ring.” Haney rep­re­sents a man who footed the bill for the emer­ald to be shipped to the U.S.

At­tor­ney Browne Greene, who rep­re­sents a group of in­vestors who say the stone be­came theirs through busi­ness deals, said Thomas’ cred­i­bil­ity had been “sig­nif­i­cantly im­peached” in de­po­si­tion tes­ti­mony. He ques­tioned Thomas’ con­tention that the bill of sale was “mys­te­ri­ously lost in a mys­te­ri­ous fire.”

Thomas’ is the first claim Kron­stadt will weigh. Af­ter de­cid­ing whether Thomas has rights to the emer­ald, he will hear ev­i­dence from other par­ties claim­ing own­er­ship. In the mean­time, the gi­ant gem sits in an ev­i­dence locker of the Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s Depart­ment, which took pos­ses­sion of it af­ter it was re­ported stolen in late 2008.

Thomas, who made his money in the con­struc­tion busi­ness, said in a de­po­si­tion that he first heard of the stone on a trip to Brazil, where he was buy­ing a dif­fer­ent emer­ald, one about 50 pounds. At the time, he thought that emer­ald was the largest in the world, he said.

But when he got there, the Brazil­ians told him they had some­thing even big­ger. They took him to see it at a car­port some­where in Sao Paolo, where he had pho­tos taken with his arms around the stone. Thomas said he agreed to pay $60,000 for it.

“There was no bar­ter­ing back and forth on what the price was,” he said. “They said this is what they wanted for it, and I agreed to it and that was it.”

Af­ter he re­turned to the United States, he wired the money to a bank in Florida, then went back to Brazil, where he signed a doc­u­ment la­beled “bill of sale” with the Brazil­ians. The emer­ald was to be shipped to him in San Jose, but the peo­ple who were sup­posed to ar­range it told him it was stolen, Thomas tes­ti­fied.

He also tes­ti­fied that he told the Santa Clara County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice about the emer­ald, but was told there was noth­ing it could do be­cause the gem was out­side its ju­ris­dic­tion.

Attorneys seized on the years that passed be­tween Thomas’ al­leged pur­chase and his in­volve­ment in the Los An­ge­les law­suit.

“From 2001 to 2009, he es­sen­tially sits on his sofa and hopes the emer­ald ap­pears,” Haney said.

Out­side court, one of the in­vestors claim­ing own­er­ship ac­cused Thomas of “cloud­ing up” the ti­tle to the stone.

“We needed to put it through laun­dry,” Idaho busi­ness­man Kit Mor­ri­son said. “Un­for­tu­nately, this court is the laun­dry.”

The trial is ex­pected to re­sume next month.

BAHIA EMER­ALD: An­thony Thomas poses with the stone in 2001, when he claims to have bought it.

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