The Bahia Emerald was first discovered in a mine in the Brazilian state of Bahia in 2001.
LOS ANGELES — In the past 6½ years, nine men, one woman, three corporations and one government have laid claim to the giant emerald that’s been at the center of a protracted ownership dispute in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Judge Michael Johnson, the second judge to preside over the case, said Thursday he has determined the owner.
His tentative ruling hands victory to a holding company, FM Holdings, owned by three businessmen, who claimed the emerald became theirs after it was put up as collateral in a $1.3 million deal for diamonds that ultimately fell through.
The company — co-owned by Idaho businessmen Kit Morrison and Todd Armstrong, and Jerry Ferrera of Florida — “has presented evidence establishing clear title to the Bahia Emerald as against all other ownership claims,” Johnson wrote in his decision.
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In his ruling, Johnson chronicled the tortuous history of the gem after it was first discovered in a mine in the Brazilian state of Bahia in 2001. (Although media reports have put the gem at 840 pounds, Johnson said in his ruling that it was a mere 751.77 pounds, and nearly 3 feet long at its tallest point.)
The gem has been appraised at $372 million.
The Bahia Emerald, a massive black schist with nine protruding emerald crystals, came into the U.S. in early 2005. It was the subject of a series of agreements that shifted ownership to various people and involved various moneymaking schemes. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the emerald was submerged in floodwaters.
It was seized by Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives in 2008 after one businessman reported it stolen from a Los Angeles-area warehouse. Sheriff’s officials tracked the gem to a Las Vegas vault. Since then, it has remained in sheriff’s custody in an undisclosed location as the legal battle slogged through the courts.
Since the case was first filed in early 2009, two men’s claims to the emerald were rejected by the courts, and the rest dropped or settled their cases, leaving only the three men behind the holding company still claiming ownership.
“A lot of very strange players showed up in this case,” said attorney Brown Greene, who represented the prevailing group.
Last fall, the government of Brazil attempted to intervene in the case and halt the legal proceedings, alleging that the stone was illegally mined and should be returned to its home country.
“This ruling will not stop Brazil’s efforts to recover the Bahia Emerald,” attorney John Nadolenco said Friday.
Objections to the tentative decision can be filed within a 15-day period before the judgment becomes final.
Attorney Andrew Spielberger, who represents Morrison, said that when Morrison first surrendered the emerald to detectives, he thought he’d have it back in a matter of weeks. “My clients have waited six years, so we’ll wait the 15 days,” Spielberger said.