CLEARWATER, Fla. – Palm Harbor businessman Scott Patrick Mitchell broke up with his fiancee last summer and shortly thereafter realized $2.1 million in jewelry had gone missing from a vault to which only he and his ex, Mary Catherine Hunt, knew the combination.
Mitchell, the CEO of Simply Organic salon products and founder of Affluence.org, alleges Hunt’s parents had knowledge of and participated in the events following the heist. He has sued all three to recover the value of the missing 99 three-diamond necklaces, 147 gold rings and 172 loose diamonds -- all of which were uninsured.
In the civil suit, Mitchell, who acquired the gems for $900,000 in 2008 from a cash-strapped jeweler, asks for treble damages, which would bring his recovery total to $6.1 million.
But this isn’t the sum total of Hunt’s remaining legal entanglements with her former boyfriend. Criminal charges of grand theft were also filed against her in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.
Grand theft can be a serious offense in Florida.
“Grand theft involves the unlawful taking of property worth more than $300,” Orlando criminal trial attorney Richard Hornsby told the Florida Record.
In Florida, the crime of grand theft is broken into a three-tiered system and ranked by severity. With $2.1 million in jewels involved, Hunt is facing a possible Grand Theft of the First Degree conviction, which applies to property taken with a value of more than $100,000.
“Hypothetically, a judge is empowered to choose one or any combination of three penalties,” Hornsby said.
The possible penalties are a minimum 21-month prison term, a maximum 30-year prison term, 30 years of probation or a fine up to $10,000.
There are a few defenses for grand theft, according to Hornsby.
“Equal ownership, good faith belief, valueless property and voluntary abandonment are all common claims," he said.
According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's report, Mitchell was alerted to the theft when he received a call from Mary Hunt’s apparently drunk father, Michael Hunt, bragging about a UPS shipment full of gold, diamonds and silver that he had just received at his Virginia home.
With Michael Hunt still on the phone, Mitchell went to check on his stash and discovered the jewelry missing. Though Hunt promised he would return the box of loot, he never did.
Mary Catherine Hunt and her mother, Linda Hunt, allegedly were seen on a UPS surveillance video on Aug. 24, 2015, mailing a package they said contained a laptop computer and antique plate. Initially, they wanted to insure the package for the maximum allowed of $50,000, but didn’t like the cost and settled for $3,000 in protection.
On the basis of an audio recording of the call from Michael Hunt to Mitchell, Virginia deputies visited Michael Hunt. He denied knowledge of both the stolen jewelry, and the UPS box shipped from Florida by his wife and daughter and accepted by “M. Hunt.”
Hunt’s attorney says his client denies all allegations.