MORGAN HILL (AP) — A Bay Area man who said he is the true owner of an 840-pound emerald held to that story in court Tuesday as a lawyer for another group of claimants pressed him to admit he was really little more than a tourist who was photographed with the $400 million rock.
Anthony Thomas of Morgan Hill testified before a Los Angeles judge who must determine ownership of the Bahia Emerald, which has had a long, mysterious legacy since it was dug up in Brazilian jungle nearly 10 years ago.
Thomas says he originally bought the gem in 2001 for $60,000, only to lose it to theft before he could get it to his home.
After that, the gem turned up in New Orleans, where it was housed in a warehouse that flooded during Hurricane Katrina. It was also reported stolen from a storage facility in the Los Angeles suburb of El Monte before authorities finally seized it in Las Vegas.
While authorities hold onto the rock, Thomas went to court to try to prove it belongs to him.
To bolster Thomas’ case, his attorney previously introduced 25 photos of Thomas with his arm around the hulking stone while it was still in Brazil.
But during Thomas’ cross-examination Tuesday, attorney Andrew Spielberger, who represents a handful of businessmen who say they are the true owners, dismissed that evidence as little more than tourist photos.
“Why would you take 25 photos of the 600-pound emerald if you were going to take it home with you anyway?” he asked.
The rock is known in court as the 600-pound emerald because that was its estimated weight before it was placed on a scale.
Thomas replied that the photos were taken at a celebration commemorating his ownership of the gem. He said he also received a bill of sale but lost that when his house burned down in 2006.
Spielberger was skeptical of that too, asking Thomas why, if he kept another smaller emerald in a safe deposit box, he didn’t keep proof that he really owned the big one there too.
“I don’t know why I didn’t do it. I have no explanation. People do things,” Thomas said, adding the safe he kept the bill of sale in at home was supposed to be fireproof.
He also accused his former business partner of burning down his house to destroy his record of the purchase, an allegation the judge ordered stricken from the record. Thomas has testified his former partner conspired with others to take the emerald and resell it for more money when they discovered how valuable it was.
Superior Court Judge John A. Kronstadt, who is hearing the case without a jury, is expected to issue a written ruling on Thomas’ ownership claim sometime after the trial.
The trial began in September with one day of testimony before it was postponed until Tuesday. It is expected to continue at least through Wednesday.
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