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Missing Kennedy memorabilia prompt lawsuit in Largo

LARGO — A Clearwater woman is suing a Largo business, saying it failed to return her John F. Kennedy memorabilia.

The business, co-owned by Belleair Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine, says Belleair Coins simply misplaced the memorabilia because it was abandoned for at least a year and a half.

The items "mysteriously disappeared," said Barbara Hise, 64, who filed the lawsuit on March 30.

That's not the case, said Arbutine, whose family business on West Bay Drive deals in precious metals, jewelry, estate items, autographs and other collectibles.

"When you wait a year and half to two years to pick something up, it's kind of mystery to where it's at," said Arbutine, 44.

Even though the "mystery" has been solved, the case hasn't quite been resolved, yet.

According to the suit, Hise dropped off an autographed photograph of Kennedy and a typewritten letter with his signature in January 2007. She was told the photo and the letter, dated September 1960, were going to be forwarded to an expert in Georgia for authentication, the suit said.

The items, along with buttons and posters, were sent to her when she was a teen. She helped out with Kennedy's presidential campaign by putting up posters in mom and pop shops in rural Virginia, Hise said.

"Mementos come and go, but (the letter and photo) I protected and kept safe," Hise said.

Arbutine said he wasn't involved in the matter, but he was able to provide some background. His store, which has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, rarely takes collectibles in for this type of authentication, he said.

His father, Art, does the buying and selling and is generally knowledgeable enough to gauge the value of items, he said.

But in this case, a new employee, who didn't know the policy, mistakenly accepted the memorabilia, he said.

Hise's suit claims the items have a value of more than $15,000.

Arbutine said his father, Art, determined they weren't worth much because they were signed with an Autopen signing machine, he said.

Hise was called to pick up her stuff, Arbutine said.

But Hise has a different account.

She said she waited months for a call from Belleair Coins and decided to call the business herself. She was told the items had not been returned from Georgia. Over the next several months, she made numerous calls to Belleair Coins and received various excuses, she said.

Hise said she stopped by once and was told the worker who had her things was out of the country.

In September of last year, after making several more calls, she stopped by the shop and asked to speak to the owner. Arbutine's father said the signatures were likely made with an Autopen. She was later told the items couldn't be found.

Arbutine said workers searched the 15,000-square-foot building several times after that, but still were not able to locate the items.

That same month, Arbutine's father sent Hise a letter of apology with a $20 bill, Hise said.

Months later, Belleair Coins received a letter from Hise's lawyer.

"The first time we knew she was upset was when her attorney sent us a letter about three months ago," Arbutine said.

When Belleair Coins learned of the suit, the entire staff of about 20 scoured the building, Arbutine said.

The photo and letter were finally found, filed in a walk-in vault, Arbutine said. Now, lawyers are coordinating their return.

"At least I'll get it back," said Hise, who learned the news from a reporter.

Pinellas County court records show no other suits filed against Belleair Coins, a family business that opened as a coin dealership in Belleair Bluffs nearly 40 years ago.

"I'm confident in the end everything's going to work out and everybody's going to be happy," Arbutine said.

Hise isn't sure if the matter is settled.

"It's a lot of grief I shouldn't have had to go through," Hise said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Missing Kennedy memorabilia prompt lawsuit in Largo 04/22/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 22, 2010 9:00pm]

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