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Jeweller accused of defrauding Norman & Nicklaus

Jeweller accused of defrauding Norman & Nicklaus

Jack Hasson sold, cleaned, cut, appraised and consigned diamonds and other jewellery for the rich and famous of Palm Beach County for years. Among his clients were golf greats Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman.

But prosecutors say Hasson substituted fakes at most every turn. Norman and Nicklaus claim they were scammed, and federal prosecutors want to call Norman as one of their first witnesses Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Hasson was accused in a nine-count fraud and money-laundering indictment of fleecing customers out of $80 million and sweet-talking his customers with lies about doing business with Elizabeth Taylor, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg and the Sultan of Brunei.

A panel of 12 jurors and one of four alternates was chosen today in the trial of the North Palm Beach jeweller and longtime employee Clifford Sloan. Norman was to be called following final jury selection and opening statements.

Attorneys offered a preview of Norman's testimony today, saying he obtained an appraisal from the Harry Winston jewellery store in New York on $358,000 in jewellery bought from Hasson. Confronted by Norman, Hasson agreed to make restitution, said Assistant U.S. Attorney James Hopkins.

In one instance, Norman paid $48,875 for a brooch shaped like his shark trademark that was supposed to be made of rare blue, orange, green, black and pink diamonds from South Africa, according to court records. Hasson allegedly sold him cheap painted stones.

Nicklaus charged he complained to Hasson about getting a fake stone in a $35,000 diamond and ruby ring, and Hasson replaced it with another fake. US District Judge James Lawrence King has not decided whether to allow Nicklaus as a witness.

The biggest loser among Hasson's customers was Aben Johnson, former owner of WXON-TV in Detroit, who bought jewel after jewel on Hasson's word that they were famous gems known as "notable diamonds of the world." Johnson claims $60 million in losses on $80 million in purchases.

Johnson thought he bought actress Loni Anderson's engagement ring, jewels from the Getty estate and the collections of Dior and Carol Lombard, diamonds with names like the "Star of Asia" and "China Red."

In many cases, prosecutors say customers bought imitations. A 24-karat cubic zirconium that cost $141 was dubbed Lombard's "Howeson Blue" and bought by Johnson for $1.5 million.

When sued by customers, Hasson countersued for defamation and often settled for less than the customers' losses on condition of confidentiality, which meant complaints about him never spread, prosecutors said.

He also was accused of replacing valuable stones with fake gems when jewellery was brought in for cleaning, cutting, appraisal or consignment.

If convicted, Hasson could face up to 65 years in prison and $162 million in fines, and Sloan faces up to 30 years in prison and $160 million in fines.


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