Wednesday 22 November 2017

British sailor whose wife vanished overboard on honeymoon cruise 'was smuggling stolen gold coins' when rescued

Lewis Bennett, 40, and Isabella Hellmann were on belated honeymoon cruise
Lewis Bennett, 40, and Isabella Hellmann were on belated honeymoon cruise
Undated US Coast Guard handout file photo of the catamaran Surf into Summer which Lewis Bennett and wife Isabella Hellmann were sailing on before her disappearance. US Coast Guard/PA Wire

Sam Blewett

A British man whose wife mysteriously vanished as they sailed off the coast of Cuba must pay 250,000 dollars (£193,000) to be bailed over allegations he was smuggling stolen coins as he was rescued.

Lewis Bennett, 40, sent an SOS call saying recent mother Isabella Hellmann was missing and his catamaran was taking on water as the newlyweds sailed from Havana to Florida, prompting an FBI investigation.

He was rescued alone in his life-raft where investigators say they later found a stash of silver coins before unearthing a haul of golden coins in a search of their home in Delray Beach, Florida.

Bennett, a British-Australian dual citizen, appeared in a Florida court on Friday where the judge set the bond with the condition that if the money is provided, the source can be investigated.

His lawyer, Marc Shiner, says he will deny a charge of transporting gold and silver coins worth up to 100,000 dollars (£77,000) while knowing that they were stolen and taken by fraud, when he returns to court on September 11.

The search for estate agent Ms Hellmann, 41, was called off days after she was reported missing in the early hours of May 15 but the investigation into her disappearance is continuing.

Undated US Coast Guard handout file photo of the catamaran Surf into Summer which Lewis Bennett and wife Isabella Hellmann were sailing on before her disappearance. US Coast Guard/PA Wire
Undated US Coast Guard handout file photo of the catamaran Surf into Summer which Lewis Bennett and wife Isabella Hellmann were sailing on before her disappearance. US Coast Guard/PA Wire

During his rescue, Bennett took a suitcase and two backpacks into his life-raft but left with just one "unusually heavy" backpack, according to a coast guard.

Special Agent James Kelley alleges that 158 British Year of the Horse silver coins and 77 Canadian Maple Leaf coins were found in Bennett's raft.

After a visit to the UK, Bennett went back to his Florida home later in May and the FBI returned the coins.

But later that day they realised Bennett had reported to police in May 2016 that coins had been burgled from a sailing boat, Kitty R, that he had been working on in St Maarten, according to court documents.

Investigators allege they returned to his home to discover 162 gold coins stashed in a pair of boat shoes in a bedroom cupboard.

The FBI says Kitty R's owner confirmed that all the coins discovered were the ones taken from the vessel.

Press Association

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