A di­a­mond, a death, a jewel thief and a two-year court bat­tle

Whose gem is it any­way? A rare pink di­a­mond has gone from the hands of its orig­i­nal owner to a con­victed thief to a Toronto pawn­shop owner. Now it lan­guishes in a po­lice ware­house as a dis­pute over its right­ful own­er­ship rages

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - EMMA MCIN­TOSH STAFF RE­PORTER

Nes­tled among stolen cars and bag­gies of seized drugs, a valu­able pink di­a­mond lies in a cav­ernous Toronto po­lice ware­house, wait­ing for its right­ful owner to take it home. That much, ev­ery­one can agree on.

But the fam­ily of its now-dead orig­i­nal owner and the pawn­shop that later bought it from a con­victed jewel thief dis­agree on nearly ev­ery other de­tail of the story: How much the gem is worth, who it truly be­longs to — and even whether it was ac­tu­ally stolen.

The di­a­mond is now at the cen­tre of a court bat­tle that’s lasted two years and count­ing, with both sides view­ing the sit­u­a­tion as a mis­car­riage of jus­tice. On one side is a pawn­shop owner who says he bought it fair and square; on the other is a fam­ily who says it was stolen and be­longs to their estate. Think of it as a cus­tody dis­pute with a tiny pink stone at the cen­tre.

“This has gone on far too long,” said Howard Green, owner of the H. Wil­liams and Co. pawn­shop, which pos­sessed the jewel be­fore Toronto po­lice seized it in 2012. “I’ve cho­sen to pur­sue it be­cause I don’t think it’s fair.”

The saga be­gan in 2011 when the now- de­ceased Martin Win­berg bought the rare, pink-hued 0.59-carat di­a­mond from a Toronto-area gold and gem dealer for $40,000.

Win­berg suf­fered from ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der and a leg in­jury that left him es­sen­tially house­bound, ac­cord­ing to his state­ment to po­lice at the time. His fam­ily de­clined to speak with the Star or share pho­tos of him, cit­ing a de­sire for pri­vacy.

Win­berg asked the sales­man who sold him the di­a­mond to store it on his be­half, along with an­other gem he’d pur­chased, ac­cord­ing to the state­ment he gave po­lice. The man agreed to do so as a friend, but later left the jew­els with a col­league he thought he could trust, the state­ment said.

Later, “in or around April 2012, Win­berg’s ac­quain­tance in­formed him that it had been stolen by a thief named Brian Colyer,” al­leges an ar­gu­ment sub­mit­ted to the On­tario Court of Ap­peal by Win­berg’s estate.

“Mr. Colyer had stolen sev­eral pieces of prop­erty in and around the same time, in­clud­ing the di­a­mond and an­other di­a­mond be­long­ing to Martin.”

Ac­cord­ing to the sub­mis­sion, Win­berg had never met or heard of Brian Colyer, nor had he au­tho­rized him to have pos­ses­sion of the di­a­mond, “much less to steal and con­vert it.”

The al­le­ga­tions in the fil­ing haven’t been proven in court. When reached by the Star, Colyer didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

In 2015, how­ever, he pleaded guilty to the theft of gold bars, coins and gems val­ued at more than $800,000 from sev­eral other clients of the dealer — though the pink di­a­mond was not among the items he was con­victed of steal­ing.

The H. Wil­liams and Co. pawn­shop, a main­stay on Church St. in down­town Toronto, looks ex­actly as you’d imag­ine a pawn­shop would look: clus­ters of jew­els glit­ter­ing in glass dis­play cases be­neath a row of shiny gui­tars, a safe with a heavy metal door at the back of the room.

Colyer was a reg­u­lar cus­tomer at the pawn­shop and staff had no rea­son to sus­pect any­thing un­to­ward, Green said. To il­lus­trate his point, he pulled out a box of re­ceipts he said were Colyer’s, flip­ping through them as he listed the dol­lar val­ues of items the man pawned, all in the thou­sands.

The shop gave Colyer $5,000 for the Win­berg di­a­mond in April 2012.

It’s not clear when Win­berg re­ported the di­a­mond stolen, but in his state­ment to Toronto po­lice, Win­berg said he’d never met Colyer.

But Green isn’t con­vinced the di­a­mond ever was stolen. He told the Star he be­lieves that Win­berg gave Colyer the di­a­mond to sell on his be­half (although he wouldn’t say why he thought so). Green’s lawyers ar­gue that since Colyer wasn’t con­victed for this par­tic­u­lar theft and Win­berg isn’t alive to an­swer ques­tions, the for­mer owner’s estate can’t prove a claim to the gem.

“This par­tic­u­lar di­a­mond, it should be re­turned to me,” Green said. “They think we’re crooks. . . . I’ve done noth­ing wrong.”

The Win­berg estate’s lawyer, Paul Adam of Wise Law Of­fice, con­tests Green’s ver­sion of events.

“We haven’t seen a sin­gle scrap of ev­i­dence that that is the case,” he said.

In July 2012, po­lice seized the di­a­mond from the pawn­shop af­ter sev­eral of the dealer’s em­ploy­ees com­plained about Colyer.

The case moved through the courts and, in the mean­time, the pink di­a­mond re­mained in the care of in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

But Win­berg died in Fe­bru­ary 2015, two months be­fore Colyer was sen­tenced to two years less a day. Colyer pleaded guilty to eight charges, but the Crown dropped the counts re­lated to Win­berg af­ter his death, say­ing it wasn’t in the pub­lic in­ter­est to pur­sue them.

The crim­i­nal case was closed. But the con­flict was far from over.

In June 2015, af­ter the trial, po­lice told Win­berg’s estate and the pawn­shop that in­ves­ti­ga­tors no longer needed the di­a­mond. Green ap­plied to have the di­a­mond re­turned to H. Wil­liams, the pawn­shop, and a judge with the On­tario Su­pe­rior Court of Jus­tice or­dered the di­a­mond re­turned to Green.

But be­fore Green ac­tu­ally re­ceived the di­a­mond, Michael Win­berg — Martin Win­berg’s brother, who had been made a trustee of the estate — asked for an ap­peal, say­ing the judge who made the or­der was mis­taken.

The On­tario Court of Ap­peal set aside the or­der.

No time­line has yet been set for any up­com­ing pro­ceed­ings, and the Win­berg estate’s lawyer, Paul Adam, de­clined to com­ment on what hap­pens next with the case.

And so the di­a­mond re­mains in the hands of po­lice.

Green re­mains adamant that the di­a­mond should come home to roost at his pawn­shop, say­ing nei­ther Win­berg nor his fam­ily ever tried to claim the jewel in the years af­ter it was pawned.

“There’s noth­ing to ar­gue about,” he said. “We’re out the money, we’re out the di­a­mond and at one point a court or­dered it be re­turned to us.”

Green said he has now spent more on le­gal fees than he did on the di­a­mond. He be­lieves the di­a­mond isn’t worth $40,000.

“I wish it was,” he said with a chuckle, adding that he thinks its value is closer to $15,000.

Adam said the estate had no com­ment on the value of the di­a­mond or how much it has spent in le­gal fees.

Krikor Ar­tinian, pres­i­dent of Ar­tinian Di­a­monds in down­town Toronto, has not seen the jewel in per­son, but he es­ti­mated its whole­sale value to be $45,000 to $60,000, based on a Ge­mo­log­i­cal In­sti­tute of Amer­ica re­port that as­sessed its qual­ity. Most re­tail­ers would mark up that price by at least 30 per cent, he added.

Green is anx­ious for the saga to be set­tled. “They could make it go away real quick if they just give me my $5,000 plus costs,” he said.

He noted that the Win­berg estate de­clined such a deal, and Adam said it would in­ap­pro­pri­ate for him to com­ment.

Adam did, how­ever, say that the case poses an in­ter­est­ing dilemma — one for which there is lit­tle le­gal prece­dent.

“I guess there haven’t been many cases where a judge has had to puzzle over this,” he said.

RICHARD LAUTENS TORONTO STAR

Pawn­shop owner Howard Green is one of sev­eral par­ties fight­ing for own­er­ship of a rare pink di­a­mond val­ued at $40,000.

RICHARD LAUTENS/TORONTO STAR

Howard Green’s unas­sum­ing pawn shop on Church St. is at the cen­tre of the long-run­ning bat­tle for the pricey di­a­mond.

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