An 840-pound emerald-encrusted rock will remain in the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department while a judge decides which of a half-dozen claimants owns the boulder-sized gem.
The emerald is one of the largest ever found and a judge conceded Tuesday it will take awhile to sort out all of the competing interests. The lawyer for one of the purported owners suggested outside court the gem may be a curse for his client. And the man who first reported it stolen said he was giving up his claims because "I have been threatened."
Larry Biegler, who refused to elaborate on the threats, told Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John A. Kronstadt he was bowing out of the case. But it was his call to sheriff's deputies reporting that the emerald had been stolen that led to a multi-state caper in which two deputies trucked the mammoth object from Las Vegas.
Another of the claimants, Todd Armstrong of Eagle, Idaho, said outside court that he moved the emerald to Las Vegas after a gem dealer gave it to him as collateral for a shipment of diamonds he paid for but never received. He was trying to sell it when the law arrived.
The parties told the judge that the huge object is worth about $400 million. Lawyers said that museums including the Smithsonian and the Getty have expressed interest in obtaining it for their collections. Its value is as an art object and it can't be broken down to make jewelry, they said.
The emerald was dug up in Brazil in 2001 and became known as the Bahia Emerald. Its first owner was a Brazilian gem trader who made the first sale of it. But after that, its route became muddled. At one point, it wound up in a warehouse in New Orleans that was flooded during Hurricane Katrina.