Westmoreland treasure hunter with high-profile emeralds claim commits suicide
A self-proclaimed thrill seeker and treasure hunter, Jay Miscovich told the almost-too-good-to-be-true story of his biggest find — piles of emeralds worth untold millions in the azure waters off Key West — to anyone who would listen.
A “60 Minutes” news crew listened.
And countless newspapers across the nation listened, carrying the story of how a chance meeting at a Key West bar led Miscovich to the find of his life.
But there were questions about his discovery, questions that may go unanswered. Miscovich, 54, put a 12-gauge shotgun to his head on Tuesday afternoon and pulled the trigger as he stood in the backyard of the rented Ligonier Township home from which he had been evicted.
Court records indicate he had learned that he and his treasure find had drawn the attention of federal investigators.
But in taking his own life, Miscovich, admittedly mired in debt while awaiting a payoff from his big find, left few clues about what pushed him to the breaking point.
The Latrobe native left no suicide note, according to Westmoreland County Coroner Ken Bacha.
“He left us the names and contact information of his two brothers (Greg of Latrobe and Scott of Hawaii), and the name of the funeral home in Latrobe where he wanted his arrangements made. That was it,” Bacha said.
Last weekend, Miscovich mailed a rambling, 15-page letter to Adam Linhardt, a reporter with the Key West Citizen newspaper, and several international news services claiming he was victimized by attorneys and accountants as soon as he found “10s of thousands of emeralds in 70 feet of water.”
“That is when the attempt to steal my company and all of my treasure started,” Miscovich wrote.
His story began in 2010 with claims that he and Florida diver Steve Elchlepp, a partner in their company, JTR Enterprises, found the gems in the Gulf of Mexico, scattered from the wreck of the Atocha, a 16th-century Spanish galleon.
In the “60 Minutes” piece titled, “The Trouble with Treasure,” Miscovich claimed he bought a map that led him to the treasure from someone he met in a bar in Key West for $500.
In emails to the Tribune-Review in May, Miscovich said the emeralds he recovered from the ocean floor were stored in a vault at an undisclosed bank in Pittsburgh.
But owners of another company, Motivation Inc., claimed they owned the salvage rights to the Atocha. A lawsuit by Motivation claims Miscovich made up the story about the map.
Miscovich was awaiting the start of a trial in Florida on Jan. 13 in the civil lawsuit that claimed he and his partners planted the emeralds at the site to lure investors to their recovery effort.
Marlowe V. White, who represents Motivation, said the case will continue despite Miscovich's suicide.
“We're very saddened (by Miscovich's death), actually. It came as quite a shock to us when we heard about it this morning,” White said.
On Wednesday, attorneys for Motivation and JTR were in New Jersey to depose another associate of Miscovich's, Peter Tobia.
According to court documents filed by White's law firm, Tobia was recorded in conversations this year with Scott Miscovich, a physician. In that recording, Tobia said he was with Jay Miscovich in 2010 and Miscovich had received about $60,000 in investor money after the purported discovery of gems.
White said he subpoenaed transcripts of the phone calls as part of the ongoing case against Miscovich and his associates.
Tobia told Scott Miscovich that the two were at a McDonald's restaurant near Orlando when the transaction occurred, according to records filed in U.S. District Court in Key West.
White declined to comment on another filing on Oct. 17 in U.S. District Court that disclosed attorneys for Scott Miscovich, an original investor in the emeralds, “had understandably been reluctant to volunteer further information at this time while his attorney negotiates with the U.S. Attorney's office ... for formal immunity from prosecution.”
“All I can say is we believe a fraud was committed here,” White said Wednesday in an interview with the Tribune-Review.
Contacted by telephone at the FBI office in Miami on Wednesday, public affairs specialist Jim Marshall declined to say whether there was an ongoing criminal investigation into JTR or Miscovich.
“It is FBI policy to neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation,” Marshall said.
No criminal charges have been filed, according to court documents.
Bacha disclosed he telephoned federal authorities in Florida to inform them of Miscovich's suicide.
Attempts to reach attorneys for Jay and Steve Miscovich for comment were unsuccessful.
As for Miscovich's emeralds, White said, a court eventually could order them to be turned over to pay for sanctions in connection with the upcoming fraud trial.
“Really, we haven't even had time to review that. But they could be considered by a judge to be one of the few assets of JTR,” White said.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.