It was just before last Christmas when detectives from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department found a crate outside a warehouse
. When they pried it open, they found what looked like a giant black bolder. Or, was it the 840-pound Brazilian emerald that had been reported stolen? The problem that the detectives had was that so many people were coming forward to claim it, it was going to be tough to figure out who actually owned it. Lt. Thomas Grubb, who heads the sheriff's investigative team on the case says,
"It seems like the more we talk to people, the more people claim to have ownership over this thing. We haven't determined who's not a suspect, really."
So Lt. Grubb has decided to lock the gem up while he investigates further. And on Tuesday, a Los Angeles Civil Court will hear from different people, all of whom claim to be the stone's owner.
The whole saga of this giant gem began last September, when Larry Biegler called the Sheriff's office to say that his enormous emerald had been stolen from a Los Angeles-area warehouse where he had been keeping it. So Lt. Grubb's team began investigating.
They discovered that the emerald, was in the possession of two businessmen named Todd Armstrong and Kit Morrison, living in Eagle, in western Idaho. When the detectives got to Eagle, Mr. Armstrong was in the midst of trying to sell the emerald to someone.
The Idaho men said the emerald was theirs. Then, they told police they had paid Mr. Biegler $1 million for diamonds he never delivered, so Biegler had put the emerald up as collateral for the stones. When the diamonds didn't materialize, they went and got the emerald from the warehouse in Los Angeles. They showed investigators a stack of documents they said proved their claim.
Biegler, a gem broker and real-estate investor, says that account is not true. He says he kept up his end of the diamond deal, and claims the Idaho men agreed to pay $80 million for the emerald, which he was willing to sell at that price. The actual value of the stone is believed to be $400 million.
The Idaho men agreed to turn over the emerald to the sheriff's deputies sol the matter could be resolved., But, now the emerald had been moved to a warehouse in Las Vegas for safekeeping.
So, Lt. Grubb planned a trip to Las Vegas. But when the investigator finally laid eyes on the stone he was surprised.
"It almost didn't look real."
He describes it as a black boulder, with protruding arm-sized green crystal cylinders. Gem experts say unbroken crystals of that size are rare. Such a large specimen usually would not be broken down into smaller pieces for jewelry. It would more likely be sold intact to a private collector or a museum. An appraisal done in Brazil valued it at $372 million.
This emerald was first dug up from a mine in 2001 in Bahia, in eastern Brazil. Bahia emeralds are among the oldest on Earth. The Gemological Institute of America says these are emeralds that formed two billion years ago. It was first owned by a Brazilian gem trader, who owned the mine. Then it went through a string of people trying to sell it, including a few treacherous months buried under water during the Katrina floods.
And now, new claims continue to emerge. Anthony Thomas a gem trader from outside San Jose, says he is the rightful owner of the emerald because he purchased it for $60,000 from the Brazilians in 2001.
On Tuesday, the court will begin hearing the competing claims of ownership. The emerald, however, remains locked up in the sheriff's custody.