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Pastor returns from church trip to find $30,000 in family jewelry gone

SAFETY HARBOR — Flying in from Salt Lake City, the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi and his wife, Lalitha, were on top of the world.

The pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Clearwater had just given a speech about faith, love and acceptance in front of 4,000 people at the Unitarian Universalists General Assembly, receiving a standing ovation.

"We were so happy coming back,'' said his wife. "He was on fire.''

That is until they found their sliding glass door open and their home robbed of $30,000 worth of 22-carat gold Indian jewelry, much of it inherited from Lalitha Janamanchi's late grandmother.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office believes the theft likely occurred on June 26, but the investigation is ongoing and there are no leads yet, according to detective John Waugh.

Janamanchi said the thieves appear to have staked out the house in the Rainbow Farms North subdivision and noticed that the family — including golden retriever Teddy, staying with a veterinarian from the church — was absent.

On the day they left for Utah, the Janamanchis had been so busy they didn't drop the jewelry off at the bank, where they usually kept it while out of town.

It was the first time they had left it at home.

To fool intruders, they hid it in different areas of the bedroom.

But the thieves took their time finding it.

The room "was ransacked,'' Janamanchi said.

"They took out boxes and storage bins and dumped them on our bed,'' he said. "They went into the family room and took the children's game systems. They went into my office and took out all my files and dumped them.''

They carried the ornate, handcrafted jewelry away in a pillow case.

Also missing were a cell phone and an expensive pen Janamanchi had received as a gift in Japan.

The thieves didn't take two video cameras, a DVD and CD collection or Janamanchi's books.

The theft came just months after Janamanchi's mother was brutally attacked in India, prompting him to return home to care for her.

When asked if he would forgive the thieves, he said "Yes, eventually.''

"The gifts we have," he said, "are our children, our family, our relationships and our friends"

Eileen Schulte can be reached at

Pastor returns from church trip to find $30,000 in family jewelry gone 07/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 9:22pm]
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