Former South Bay Friends Fight Over Bahia Emerald

A giant stone has bounced all over the world with no clear legitimate owner.

By Matt Baume
|  Wednesday, Aug 11, 2010  |  Updated 4:22 PM PDT
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Former South Bay Friends Fight Over Bahia Emerald

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After nine years, it's come down to two friends facing each other in a Los Angeles courtroom, each staking a claim on an 840-pound emerald.

The whole saga started back in 2001, when Brazilian miners unearthed the 180,000-carat stone. It is known as the Bahia Emerald.

San Jose's Ken Conetto, an experienced miner, had a handshake-agreement with the miners to split the proceeds from the discovery three ways. If only he'd gotten it in writing.

Shortly thereafter, Conetto's friend Anthony Thomas, of Morgan Hill, got involved as a potential buyer of the jewel.  Thomas flew to Sao Paulo to see the stone for himself.

Thomas says he paid a Brazilian gem dealer $60,000 for the rock in 2001, only to be duped into believing it had been stolen before it could be delivered to his home

The emerald then bounced around for several years like a hot potato:

  • It vanished all together for awhile
  • It sat in a garage in Brazil
  • Was re-discovered in a Las Vegas vault
  • Then shipped to San Jose to be used as collateral
  • It showed up on eBay with a "buy it now" price of $75 million.
  • It also spent some time sitting under grow-lights.

As for its worth: it's been appraised for as much as $925 million, and as little as $60,000.

Now, finally, a judge is set to rule on the proper owner. The hearing is scheduled for Sept. 8.

For his part, Conetto wants to donate a portion of the proceeds to hospitals. And the miners who originally found it? They want nothing to do with the rock. "They see this as symptomatic of why America is ill," Conetto's attorney told reporters.

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