Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid |

Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid

Todd Hartley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Just so there’s no confusion, I would like to state categorically that I am the rightful owner of the Bahia Emerald. Years ago I visited the city of Salvador, which is in the Brazilian state of Bahia, where the emerald was unearthed in 2001. Therefore, it should be clear to everyone that the stone belongs to me.

OK, so maybe that’s a flimsy basis for a claim, but it’s not a whole lot flimsier than the five or possibly six claims currently being levied. Since the stolen emerald was recovered just before Christmas, two investors from Idaho, a businessman and a geologist from San Jose and a gem broker from Los Angeles have all filed lawsuits asserting their rights to ownership. It’s rumored that a sixth party may also be involved.

What’s that? You say you don’t know what the Bahia Emerald is? All right, I’ll back up and start from the beginning.

The Bahia Emerald, weighing in at 840 pounds, is one of the largest emeralds ever discovered. Its value has been appraised at $372 million, although some leading gemologists dispute that number, and it was once offered on eBay for a “Buy it now” price of $75 million. Fittingly, the emerald has a rich history to match its size and purported worth.

If one believes Wikipedia (note of caution: one should never believe Wikipedia), after the rock was dug up, it took eight men more than five hours to move it to the nearest clear trail. Once there, it was hauled by a team of mules through the jungle for some 700 miles. Along the way, however, the mules were attacked by a pair of black panthers, leaving the men no choice but to build a stretcher from wood and vines and carry the emerald the rest of the way by hand.

Admittedly, that part of the story may be a fabrication. (The Wikipedia page has a banner noting, “This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia’s quality standards,” whatever those may be.) But the supposedly true parts of the Bahia Emerald’s tale are almost as ridiculous and nearly as difficult to verify.

The first owners of the emerald were the Brazilian gem trader who owned the mine and his business partner. In 2005, they shipped it to a man named Ken Conetto, a self-taught geologist from San Jose, according to papers filed by Conetto’s attorney. Conetto, however, never paid for the emerald, agreeing instead to share the profits with the Brazilians after he found a buyer.

Conetto never found a buyer. He thought he had one lined up in New Orleans, so he sent the emerald down there, where it spent weeks submerged in water after Hurricane Katrina flooded the warehouse where it was being stored. After the sale was never concluded, the emerald was shipped back to San Jose.

Thinking he could find buyers in Los Angeles, Conetto enlisted the aid of gem broker Larry Biegler, and the two men drove the stone down to L.A. themselves. Along the way, however, the van broke down (I’m thinking this might be the source of the story of the devoured mules), leading to tensions between Conetto and Biegler that eventually resulted in Biegler taking possession of the emerald, which Conetto pledged as collateral on a loan he failed to pay.

Biegler then allegedly used the emerald as collateral on a deal with two businessmen from Idaho, Todd Armstrong and Kit Morrison. The two men claim they paid Biegler $1 million for diamonds he never delivered, so they took the stone instead, leading Biegler to report the emerald stolen back in September.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department eventually found the rock in a warehouse in Las Vegas and took custody of it until they can determine who the rightful owner is. That issue, however, became even cloudier recently after a gem broker from San Jose, Anthony Thomas, filed a claim alleging that he is the rightful owner since he bought it from the Brazilians in 2001 for $60,000. Thomas apparently was led to believe the emerald was stolen while en route to him.

All this for a rock that looks like a giant black potato with a bunch of green bars stuck in it. It’s sad, really. This whole saga kind of reminds me of the book “The Pearl” by John Steinbeck. In that story a man discovers a gigantic pearl, and almost immediately people start trying to kill him, and his family falls apart. It was a pretty boring book, so I never finished it, but you can rest assured that it probably didn’t end well.

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