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
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.