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Florida Keys News
Friday, December 7, 2012
Emeralds case moves north

The final chapter in the emeralds trial will be heard in Miami two weeks from today, a federal judge said Wednesday night to the surprise of the Key West courthouse.

U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King cited scheduling conflicts. King is trying to determine if Jay Miscovich, who found about 154 pounds of emeralds on the seafloor, should pay the legal fees of a Mel Fisher-related company that sued him, then withdrew its claim. King also wanted to delve into the Fishers' claim of fraud.

Attorneys were still questioning Duval Street-based Emeralds International owner Manuel Marcial at 6 p.m. Thursday, and expected to call more witnesses today. But closing arguments were scheduled to be heard Dec. 21 in Miami.

Marcial testified that the 60,000 or so gems were not worth the millions that Miscovich claims.

"With very few exceptions, they are of very poor quality," Marcial said on the stand, adding that he assessed them at $50,000 total. "No respected retailer would ever be interested in even looking at these. They are more suitable for collectors or tourists. My assessment ... is generous and perhaps excessive."

Miscovich testified earlier in the week that experts at the Smithsonian and auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's had said some of the emeralds were priceless and museum quality.

Marcial told the judge that most of the emeralds probably came from Brazil, not Colombia, and thus were worth nowhere near the purported millions. Marcial worked for the late Mel Fisher upon his discovery of the Spanish galleons Nuestra Señora de Atocha and Santa Margarita in the 1980s.

The most heated exchange of the day, though, came from Bruce Silverstein, an investor in Miscovich's company. He dueled with the attorneys for Kim Fisher, son of Mel.

The Fishers company originally sued Miscovich, alleging the emeralds came from the family's Atocha and Santa Margarita treasure sites. They claimed Miscovich committed fraud by concocting an elaborate scheme to swindle investors' money.

The Fishers dropped their claim to the gems in August after Marcial's assessment.

Silverstein called the Fishers' previous claim "frivolous."

"This is all nonsense," he said, looking at the Fisher table. "You all are just submitting anything you dream up."

Fisher attorney Gene Lewis asked Silverstein if he had threatened two Fisher witnesses outside the courtroom.

Both Marcial and marine archeologist Robert Baer testified that Silverstein threatened them in the hallway while they were sequestered witnesses -- meaning not allowed to discuss the case prior to testimony with anyone but their attorneys.

Silverstein fired back that both men approached him and wouldn't leave him alone.

Miscovich, a former real estate businessman and nursing home executive turned treasure salvor, came upon some 154 pounds of emeralds in waters off Key West in January 2010.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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