Judge orders Clearwater jeweler to pay for pilfering gold, jewels

CLEARWATER — Before customers see the jewelry displayed inside glass cases at Bradley Harris' jewelry store, they are greeted by a mug shot of a man who once worked there.

"Business Alert!" is scrawled above Norris Smith's booking photo, taken at the Pinellas County jail the day police say he admitted stealing money, diamonds and gold from Harris while he worked at the store for about six months.

On Thursday, Smith, who was sentenced to five years of probation last year, was ordered by a judge to pay $550 a month to Harris until he pays him more than $31,000 in restitution.

"Am I proud of what I've done? Absolutely not," Smith, 55, told Clearwater police officers after his arrest. "I'll man up to it."

Smith comes from a well-known family of jewelers. His father, Kenneth Smith, apprenticed in New York, where his work included repairs to a necklace worn by Cleopatra. He opened a jewelry store in Clearwater in 1955, where Norris and his two brothers learned their father's craft.

"His dad was a good man. The mother and dad, I liked them," Harris, 48, said. "I believe they were just honest, hard-working people."

So in late 2011 when Harris was looking for someone to help him at his store, A. Adler Jewelry Brokers at 2811 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., he asked Norris Smith. Their arrangement: Harris would get 25 percent of Smith's profits from jewelry repairs. Smith would receive 25 percent of Harris' jewelry sales.

"I just thought, I've known him for so long," Harris said. "He has some really good, old-time clients . . . It was helpful to have that extra experience around."

But the first glimmer of trouble appeared in early 2012.

When Harris returned from a trip and opened the large safe in his office, a bin containing scrap gold that had been full before he left town was nearly empty.

A few weeks later, when Harris returned from another trip and looked in the safe, more pieces of gold were gone. Harris didn't think much of the missing jewelry, telling himself he probably had forgotten he sold it.

"Not even suspicious yet," he recalled.

That would change in May 2012, when Susan Armstrong, in tears, told Harris about her diamond ring.

Weeks before, Armstrong, of Clearwater, had asked Smith to replace the prongs of the family heirloom she had worn for decades: a yellow gold ring with a European-cut diamond. The jewel was once nestled in one of her late grandmother's earrings.

Weeks later, she returned to the jewelry store to pick up the ring, but the setting was too high. She asked Smith to place a lower setting on the ring, she said. Two weeks had passed when Smith called her to say there was a crack in the diamond. He was going to fix it.

Finally, in May 2012, Armstrong arrived at the store to pick it up. The diamond was smaller.

"This diamond is not my diamond," Armstrong said. "I said no, no, no, no."

She recounted the details to Harris, who confronted Smith. Smith said he had sent the stone to a diamond cutter in North Dakota for repairs, Harris recalled. But when Harris called the cutter, he hadn't heard from Smith.

Smith then told Harris he had sent the stone to a Largo cutter. That cutter told Harris he never received a diamond.

In the next few days, Harris uncovered more problems: Smith had sold Harris' scraps of gold to a jewelry dealer in Largo and never paid him back for several jewelry items he ordered on the business credit card, Harris said. In an e-mail Smith sent to Harris, he admitted to pilfering $2,700 worth of small diamonds used in jewelry repairs, according to police records.

The total in stolen money and jewelry: about $40,000.

"I am angry, disappointed and betrayed," Harris wrote in an email to Smith. "After 20 years and the opportunity that I offered you, this is what you do to repay me."

Harris called Clearwater police.

Smith was arrested on July 13, 2012. During an interview with detectives, he first denied stealing from Harris, adding he planned to pay him back, according to police records.

After several minutes, a detective asked: "Do you admit to stealing these items?"

A moment of silence later, Smith answered: "Yes."

"Short of money. Lost my house. You know, I was trying to get back on my feet. I didn't do it maliciously," he said in a police recording. "You know, my lawyer said 'Don't admit to anything.' I can't do it, dude. I'm wracking my brains, man. I really am. I wanted some . . . a latitude on his part. I was willing to pay him restitution and not go this route."

Smith declined to comment for this story. He works now at Rose's Jewelry in downtown Clearwater.

In August, a judge sentenced Smith to five years of probation on scheme to defraud and grand theft charges. He was also ordered to pay about $40,000 in restitution and has already paid Harris about $9,000.

At A. Adler Jewelry Brokers, clients sometimes arrive looking for Smith.

When they ask where he has gone, Harris points to the sign near the front door.

Times staff researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at lmorel@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel.

Judge orders Clearwater jeweler to pay for pilfering gold, jewels 04/11/14 [Last modified: Saturday, April 12, 2014 5:07pm]

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