MH man claims 840-pound emerald in trial


A Morgan Hill man testified this week in the trial to determine
who among a list of claimants of the fabled

Bahia Emerald

is the stone’s rightful owner, according to an Associated Press
A Morgan Hill man testified this week in the trial to determine who among a list of claimants of the fabled “Bahia Emerald” is the stone’s rightful owner, according to an Associated Press report.

The 840-pound rock, estimated to be worth somewhere between $19 million and $900 million, is the centerpiece in a twisted saga that spans two hemispheres, has been claimed by more than a dozen different parties and has broken a friendship between two San Jose-area men.

Now the rock is in a Los Angeles courtroom – as the subject of a long-simmering dispute over its ownership, the AP report said. The civil trial, in which Ken Conetto of San Jose also claims to be an owner of the gem, started this week in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Testimony began in Judge John A. Kronstadt’s courtroom in September, but was postponed until this week after one day of testimony.

Anthony Thomas of Morgan Hill says he is the emerald’s true owner, his attorney Jeffrey Baruh told the Times in September. Thomas claims he purchased the rock in 2001 for $60,000, from a pair of Brazilian miners who dug it out of the ground.

Thomas had his picture taken with the emerald, but testified this week that he lost the bill of sale from the purchase in a house fire, according to the AP report.

Facilitating the sale, according to Baruh, was Ken Conetto of San Jose, a former friend of Thomas’ who has been involved in various mining interests – including in Nevada – for more than 30 years.

Thomas claims that Conetto told him he would arrange shipment of the 180,000-carat rock out of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Baruh said. However, Conetto told Thomas that the emerald was stolen in Brazil as it was about to be shipped.

From there the emerald took a circuitous and partly unknown route to a number of places in the western hemisphere, and was even submerged in Hurricane Katrina’s flood waters, in an underground vault in New Orleans, for a year before Conetto retrieved it and brought it back to San Jose.

Conetto’s attorney, Eric Kitchen, claimed to have imported the giant gem to California himself in 2005.

Although Thomas didn’t see the Bahia Emerald for seven years following his claimed purchase of it in 2001, he saw it on CNN in 2008 when it was seized by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office as stolen property, Baruh said in the September interview.

While the emerald was out of his possession, it had been to El Monte, Santa Barbara, Las Vegas and Los Angeles in a series of sales by parties whose claim to the rock’s ownership was also dubious, Kitchen explained. Authorities caught wind of one of these transactions, by Kit Morrison who fraudulently used the emerald as collateral on a loan, and police seized the rock.

Since 2008, the Bahia Emerald has been locked up with the Los Angeles County major crimes task force until its ownership can be determined.

The chain of sales of the emerald over the years produced a number of litigants who now claim the rock is theirs in the current court battle, the AP report said. In court this week, Thomas presented as proof that he owns the gem about 25 pictures of him with his arms around and standing next to the rock in Brazil in 2001.

Conetto still claims the emerald is his, though if he regains the rock he plans to donate it to charity, Kitchen said earlier this year.

Testimony in the bench trial is expected to conclude today, according to the AP report.