LA judge sets trial to determine true owner of 840-pound emerald worth almost $400 million
LOS ANGELES – The case of an emerald the size of a boulder will roll into a courtroom in September, accompanied by a small army of lawyers representing those who have laid claim to the 840-pound rock as it traveled a circuitous route from Brazil to Los Angeles.
After rejecting a motion to dismiss one of the ownership claims, Superior Court Judge John A. Kronstadt on Friday scheduled a Sept. 8 trial to determine the gem's true owner. If all the claimants and their attorneys show up, they will all but fill Kronstadt's tiny downtown courtroom.
Tony Thomas of Morgan Hill has said he purchased the emerald from a Brazilian gem dealer for $60,000 shortly after it was dug up in that country in 2001. Its worth has since been appraised at almost $400 million.
Thomas says the emerald vanished after he arranged to have it shipped home, and he was duped into believing it was stolen so it could be sold to someone else for more money.
"He was defrauded by a number of people, one of which was his consultant, into believing it had been sent to a point of shipment and stolen," said attorney Jeffrey A. Baruh, who represents Thomas.
From there, the emerald's route gets murky.
It is said to have been stored at a warehouse in New Orleans that was flooded during Hurricane Katrina and to have made a stop in Idaho. Authorities seized it in Las Vegas in 2008 after it was reported stolen from a warehouse in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte.
Among those claiming ownership is a man who says he was retained by the Brazilian owners to sell it. Another claimant, Todd Armstrong of Eagle, Idaho, has said he received it from a gem dealer as collateral for a shipment of diamonds he paid for but never received.
Armstrong was trying to sell the gem in Las Vegas when authorities swooped in and grabbed it. They now have it under lock and key in Los Angeles.
At Friday's hearing, attorneys representing Armstrong and others tried unsuccessfully to get the judge to dismiss the claim by Thomas.
They argued that although he agreed to purchase the gem for $60,000, it was never delivered to him, and therefore he never legally took possession of it.
Thomas' attorney argued his client took possession of the emerald in Brazil before it disappeared.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects estimated value of emerald to almost $400 million)