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Convicted LeNature's CEO claims he should retain seized sparkling personal possessions

By Richard Gazarik
Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

From a minimum-security prison in New Jersey, convicted LeNature's CEO Gregory Podlucky of Ligonier is trying to retain ownership of 160 gems and pieces of custom-made jewelry that he claims are personal possessions seized by the government, according to federal court records.

Some of the gold, silver and platinum jewelry pieces, many of them custom-made, are set with diamonds, rubies and sapphires, according to a 66-page inventory filed in court.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney David Hickton in Pittsburgh and New York bankruptcy trustee Marc Kirschner have laid claim to more than $30 million worth of precious stones that Podlucky purchased for himself with money he defrauded from investors in his beverage company, according to court documents.

Podlucky is serving 20 years at a prison in Fort Dix and was ordered to make more than $661 million in restitution.

His wife, son and brother — along with another employee and two business associates — are serving federal prison sentences for their roles in the $800 million scam.

Podlucky claims that, under the terms of his plea bargain, the government should return “certain personal pieces” of jewelry “free and clear of the forfeiture rights of the United States,” according to a Nov. 1, 2012, letter to the U.S. Clerk of Courts in Pittsburgh. The inventory does not list a value for the items Podlucky is seeking to retain.

Among the pieces Podlucky claims are his:

• Diamond- and ruby-encrusted earrings and necklaces.

• A gold chain containing 66 sapphires and 20 diamonds.

• A Jaeger-LeCoultre watch in white gold with 41 diamonds, valued at $289,000, which Podlucky surrendered during a court hearing last year in order to avoid spending a night in jail.

• A gold necklace containing diamonds, rubies and sapphires.

• A gold bracelet with a purple-colored stone surrounded by 20 diamonds.

• A gold bracelet containing 20 diamonds.

• A platinum ring.

Under the terms of Podlucky's plea bargain, he gave up the right to challenge the forfeiture “of all pieces of gems and jewelry that were seized as evidence” during the investigation “with the exception of certain personal pieces,” according to court files.

Podlucky claimed in previous filings that his wife, Karla, who is serving a federal prison sentence in West Virginia, owned some of the jewelry. He said the pieces were left to his wife by her mother.

In November, Hickton filed a complaint to seize the items. Kirschner filed his claims in January.

A federal judge will hold a hearing this summer on the argument.

Kirschner said the case is simple.

“... The court should order that the jewelry be sold and the jewelry's proceeds be transferred to the trust, for distribution to its creditor beneficiaries, the victim of the fraud...,” he said.

Kirschner said the items were purchased with money that Podlucky misappropriated before LeNature's went bankrupt in 2006.

The bankruptcy led to an extensive criminal investigation resulting in guilty pleas or convictions for all the defendants.

A bankruptcy court judge charged Kirschner with recovering as much of the company's assets as possible. Federal agents discovered the cache of precious stones during a 2007 search of LeNature's Latrobe headquarters. Investigators found a secret room Podlucky had built that contained safes filled with the gems and jewelry, which remain in federal custody. Podlucky also had stashed gold and silver at his home which he sold illegally to generate cash so he could maintain his lifestyle and have money to pay his attorney.

Following LeNature's bankruptcy, a federal investigation revealed that Podlucky had kept two sets of financial records and made it appear that his company was more profitable than it was.

The company was kept afloat through more borrowing to pay off previous lenders.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at rgazarik@tribweb.com.

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