Emerald-Encrusted Rock Contested in Court


LOS ANGELES—A giant, emerald-encrusted rock will remain under lock and key, guarded by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, while its ownership is hammered out in court.

At least half a dozen people claim legal ownership of the rock, which weighs 840 pounds. Earlier this month, a judge said that it will take a while to sort out the claims and determine who is the rightful owner.

The emerald, which is known as the Bahia Emerald, was unearthed in Brazil in 2001 when a miner in the Carnaiba emerald mine discovered an unusually large crystal protruding from black rock. A veteran miners then proceeded to carefully excavate the rock, using a small pick and hammer in an hours-long process.

It took eight men over five hours to move the rock to the nearest clear trail. Then they assembled a team of pack mules, which toted the gem through the jungle for five months. At that point, the mules were attacked and killed by two black panthers. The eight men were then forced to build a stretcher from wood, and transport the rock by hand.

The emerald has changed hands several times, spending some time in a New Orleans warehouse that became flooded during Hurricane Katrina. It was reported stolen from a vault near Los Angeles, and traced to a Las Vegas warehouse before being recovered by sheriff’s deputies. Authorities believe that the thief used falsified papers to remove the stone from the vault, but no criminal charges have been filed in the matter.

One of the claimant’s lawyers suggested that the rock is actually cursed, and another man – Larry Biegler, who initially reported it stolen – has withdrawn his name from the pool of claimants. Although he declined to elaborate, Biegler said that he has received threats over the matter.

Another could-be owner, Todd Armstrong of Eagle, Idaho, said that he had been given the rock as collateral for a shipment of diamonds he paid for, but never received. He was trying to sell the stone.

The giant gem, which is estimated to be worth about $400 million, is the second-largest of its kind. Both the Smithsonian and the Getty museum have expressed interest in obtaining it. Because of its size, it cannot be broken down to make jewelry. At one point, the gem was actually listed on eBay for a “Buy It Now” price of $75 million.


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