Prose­cu­tors list ev­i­dence in coin case

Trove may shed light about sub­ur­ban Del­ray man’s miss­ing wife.

The Palm Beach Post - - LOCAL & BUSINESS - By Eliot Klein­berg Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Fed­eral prose­cu­tors have de­tailed in court a trove of ev­i­dence re­lated to Lewis Ben­nett’s ar­rest on charges he trans­ported as much as $100,000 in stolen coins.

The ev­i­dence also might shed light on what au­thor­i­ties know about the re­ported dis­ap­pear­ance of Ben­nett’s wife, sub­ur­ban Del­ray Beach real es­tate bro­ker Isabella Hell­mann.

But while a list of the “dis­cov­ery” was posted this week in the fed­eral docket, the items them­selves are not pub­lic. Un­like state courts, in the fed­eral sys­tem dis­cov­ery is lim­ited to the par­ties un­less any of it is for­mally filed as an ex­hibit, U.S. at­tor­ney’s spokes­woman An­nette Lima said Thurs­day.

Nei­ther she nor the at­tor­ney for Ben­nett would com­ment on ei­ther the dis­cov­ery list or the case in gen­eral.

In the early hours of May 15, the new­ly­wed cou­ple was on a be­lated hon­ey­moon sail­ing trip when Ben­nett called the Coast Guard to say he was about 30 miles west of Cay Sal in the Ba­hamas and had awo­ken to find the cata­ma­ran had struck some­thing. Ben­nett said he went on deck to find that Hell­mann, 41, was gone and his ves­sel was tak­ing on wa­ter.

At­tor­neys for Ben­nett will be in court Thurs­day to ask that a judge de­clare his wife dead. In May, Ben­nett wrote to the U.S. Coast Guard within a day af­ter it called off its four-day search and re­quested, with­out suc­cess, a “let­ter of pre­sumed death.”

The U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI both are con­duct­ing miss­ing-per­son in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Nei­ther will com­ment. And nei­ther agency has said it sus­pects any foul play in the dis­ap­pear­ance of Hell­mann, the mother of the cou­ple’s 15-month-old daugh­ter.

A com­plaint says that, af­ter the Coast Guard rescued Ben­nett and flew him to Marathon, au­thor­i­ties found coins on him that were stolen while he worked in May 2016 as a mate aboard a yacht.

Soon af­ter his res­cue, Ben­nett said in a so­cial me­dia post­ing that he took the cou­ple’s daugh­ter to his na­tive Eng­land, where his par­ents live. Nei­ther the FBI nor the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice will say how Ben­nett re­turned to Florida and was ar­rested in West Palm

Beach on Aug. 28.

Ben­nett, 40, re­mains in the Broward County Jail af­ter plead­ing not guilty Sept. 26 in U.S. District Court in Fort Laud­erdale. He is be­ing held with­out bail. His trial is set for Dec. 11 in Key West.

In the doc­u­ment filed Tues­day, the U.S. at­tor­ney’s in­ven­tory in­cludes:

■ Pho­tos of items re­cov­ered when Lewis was rescued.

■ Two au­dio record­ings, and a set of tran­scripts, of state­ments made by Ben­nett. Prose­cu­tors said they in­ter­viewed him May 19, the day af­ter the Coast Guard search was called off, and again May 23.

■ Doc­u­ments, data from equip­ment and both pho­tos and video re­lated to the Coast Guard’s search. In Sep- tem­ber, The Palm Beach Post doc­u­mented a 158-page pack- age of search ma­te­ri­als that it ob­tained from the Coast Guard. ■ Pho­tos from a search of the 2006 Mercedes-Benz used by Ben­nett and Hell- mann. Neigh­bors have said that on May 23, men wear- ing la­tex gloves searched the car and ques­tioned Ben­nett as he stood nearby.

■ Pho­tos taken when in­ves­ti­ga­tors searched the Ben­nett-Hell­mann con­do­minium in sub­ur­ban Del­ray Beach on June 16, and a copy of a record­ing found on a de­vice there.

■ Pho­tos “from St. Maarten.” The doc­u­ment doesn’t elab­o­rate, but it was in that lo­cale, the Dutch side of a Caribbean is­land co-ad­min­is­trated with France, where the yacht owner said his coins were stolen in 2016.

■ The crim i nal record of Ben­nett, a dual cit­i­zen of Eng­land and Aus­tralia, who spent long stretches at the Del­ray Beach condo, and who also spent great lengths of time in the Caribbean. Records show no pre­vi­ous ar­rests in the United States and only a De­cem­ber 2013 speed­ing ticket in Juno Beach. He had gone 54 mph in a 45 mph zone.

■ Pho­tos of a cata­ma­ran sim­i­lar to Ben­nett’s. The Aus­tralian Mar­itime Registry says Ben­nett sub­mit­ted that Surf into Sum­mer was built in 1986, and a yacht bro­ker has told The Post a cata­ma­ran that old would be worth about $60,000. But the com­pany that builds the yacht says on its web page that the model was first built in 2008. On­line ads show that a model built in 2008 sell­ing for be­tween $275,000 and $400,000.

■ A hard drive con­tain­ing files “ex­tracted from var­i­ous elec­tronic de­vices.”

■ A no­tice that prose­cu­tors have or­dered tran­scripts of grand jury tes­ti­mony by wit­nesses for the pros­e­cu­tion.

At­tor­neys for Lewis Ben­nett will ask a judge next week to de­clare his wife dead.

Isabella Hell­mann was re­ported miss­ing May 15.

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