In honor of May’s official birthstone, we’d like to share with you the unbelievable saga of the $400 million Bahia Emerald, which is actually an 840-pound host rock protruding with emerald crystals weighing 180,000 carats. One of the many crystals in the formation is the thickness of a man’s thigh.
Some say it’s the largest and heaviest emerald ever found, but instead of residing in a famous museum or the showcase of a billionaire, the Bahia Emerald awaits its fate in a secured vault at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department while a complex custody battle winds its way through the California legal system.
The Bahia Emerald’s story is so bizarre and compelling (the mammoth rock spent two months underwater thanks to Hurricane Katrina during an ill-timed visit to New Orleans in 2005) that the National Geographic Channel aired an hour-long documentary about it back in January of 2012.
Unearthed in Brazil in 2001, the rock has been a magnet for trouble starting the day it was pulled from the remote Bahia Mine and carried out of the rain forest by a team of pack mules.
According to the National Geographic documentary titled, “$400 Million Emerald Mystery,” the mules were attacked and killed by a pair of black panthers, so the hefty Bahia Emerald had to be lugged by a crew of men using a handmade stretcher.
The Bahia Emerald was flown from Brazil to its new home in California, but in 2005, the rock made a special trip to a secured vault in New Orleans so that a prospective buyer could view it. Hurricane Katrina struck two weeks later, leaving the vault and The Bahia Emerald under 16 feet of water. It took two months before it could be retrieved. Although the city was devastated, the rock came out unscathed.
Legal possession of the Bahia Emerald has changed hands several times, according to the official website for the rock. In one such instance, the Bahia Emerald was used as collateral for a cache of diamonds that failed to materialize. The owner of the diamonds claimed that he had been kidnapped by the Brazilian mafia, held hostage in an RV, and driven around Nevada for two weeks.
The stone was subsequently reported stolen in September 2008 from a secured vault in South El Monte in Los Angeles County, but was soon seized in Las Vegas by L.A.P.D. authorities after acting on a tip.
According to some reports, the Bahia Emerald was even involved in a $197 million banking transaction with the notorious Bernard Madoff before he was arrested for committing the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.
In protracted court battles, a whopping eight individuals laid claim to the Bahia Emerald. All parties have negotiated settlements with the exception of one — Anthony Thomas, who claims to have purchased the Bahia Emerald in 2001 for the sum of $60,000.
The Bahia Emerald is now famous for being embroiled in one of the largest custody/lawsuits in California history. It's still not clear who will get to keep the rock and where it will end up.