Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Palm Harbor man reports losing $2.1 million in jewelry after jilting fiancee

Alone on Valentine's Day? Things could be worse.

A Palm Harbor businessman says his ex-fiancee stole $2.1 million in gold and jewelry from his vault after he broke up with her last summer, and he alleges that her parents helped hide the loot.

He's suing all three. Former girlfriend Mary Catherine Hunt also faces a criminal charge.

Scott Patrick Mitchell said his losses include 99 three-diamond necklaces, 147 gold rings and 172 loose diamonds.

Just eight months ago, the two were posing for a photograph in the Cayman Islands — her, then 29, blowing rose-lipped air kisses; him, 44, flashing a blinding white smile.

That was before he sent her packing for bruising his face three times, according to his side of the story, which is laid out in federal civil court records.

Her side?

"She denies all the allegations," said civil attorney Phillip J. Harris of Tampa.

Hunt is criminally charged with grand theft in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court — same guy, same jewels — and represented in that case by attorney Rohom Khonsari.

"There will be many more facts brought to light," Khonsari said.

Not yet. All three Hunts have invoked Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in response to Mitchell's lawsuit.

The parents, Linda and Michael Hunt of Hayes, Va., have been identified as suspects by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office but have not been charged by the State Attorney's Office.

Reached Friday, Linda Hunt declined to comment.

Mary Hunt, until recently, owned a house in northwest Hillsborough County, but sold it after returning to Virginia.

On Aug. 11, before she left Florida, surveillance video captured her with her mother at a UPS Store on Racetrack Road, deputies reported. The women said they were mailing a laptop computer and an antique plate, but tried to insure the package for the maximum allowed, $50,000, a clerk recalled.

The clerk told deputies Linda Hunt balked at the cost and dropped coverage to $3,000.

Then, on Aug. 19, according to sheriff's reports, Michael Hunt drunk-dialed Mitchell from Virginia and reported that UPS had delivered a box of gold, diamonds and silver to the family's home on Pirates Point.

Mitchell provided officials with an audio recording.

"These are bracelets, these are diamonds, they're every … thing," retired boilermaker Hunt said, according to passages quoted in the sheriff's report.

With Hunt still on the phone, Mitchell went to his safe room and discovered that he had been robbed. The father said he would return the box but did not, according to the reports.

Officials searched the Virginia home and a nearby guesthouse.

Michael Hunt, when questioned by Virginia sheriff's deputies, said he knew nothing about stolen jewelry. Deputies showed him a UPS box accepted by "M. Hunt" and asked if it was the one his wife and daughter had sent.

"Hell, I don't know," he said, according to their report. "I had been drinking for five … days."

Mitchell, who drives a 2015 Bentley and paid $2.6 million for his home on Lake Tarpon, is CEO of Simply Organic, a distributor and manufacturer of professional salon products.

He drew attention in 2008 for launching the website Affluence.org, which he called "Facebook for the filthy rich."

He told Pinellas investigators that he and two other investors bought merchandise from strapped jewelers at discount prices during the 2008 recession, acquiring the gold and gems for about $900,000.

He said only he and Hunt knew the combination to the secured room where it was kept.

Mitchell reported that the jewelry was not insured.

Hunt was charged with grand theft in October.

The civil complaint, filed in November by Tampa attorney Todd Foster, estimates the collection's 2015 value at $2.1 million.

"We're just trying to recover for this fellow what he says has been stolen," Foster said.

That, and $4 million more. The suit asks for treble damages.

In January, Foster petitioned Chief U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday to bar the Hunts from spending more than $2,000 at a time without court approval, going to pawn shops or dipping into a shoebox found in the search that contained $35,164.

A hearing on that motion is set for Feb. 24, a few days before the next scheduled pretrial hearing in the criminal case.

Mitchell told deputies he met Hunt in 2013, dated on and off for a year, then became engaged. She went back and forth between his home and hers.

He covered her mortgage payments, utility bills, credit card debt, auto and health insurance, gym, yoga and massage memberships, cellphone bills, let her drive a 2015 Mercedes Benz G550 and took her along on 11 international vacations, he said in a court affidavit.

He said he broke up with her in June and again weeks later, calling off an August wedding.

After the jewelry went missing, he turned over surveillance images to deputies, who referred the case for prosecution.

His Facebook page shows him still traveling widely, but with a different woman at his side.

Senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Patty Ryan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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