Ralph Esmerian, Celebrity Jeweler and Owner of Fred Leighton, Busted For Fraud
Ralph Esmerian, a Manhattan jeweler who once loaned gems to Hollywood's rich and famous -- including Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jennifer Lopez, and Melania Trump -- was arrested on fraud charges today at his girlfriend's Tudor City apartment.
Esmerian, who in 2006 bought Fred Leighton's stake in his eponymous jewelry company, is accused of bankruptcy and wire fraud "for his alleged embezzlement, double-pledging and false statements in connection with more than $210 million in loans used to finance his business and buy Fred Leighton," the New York Post says.
The Daily News says Esmerian lied to lenders by double-pledging collateral and embezzled property and money from Fred Leighton when the jeweler faced bankruptcy in 2008:
In 2005, Esmerian, 69, attempted to expand his company through a series of loans -- including $177 million from Merrill Lynch and $40 million from Acorn Capital Group.
The feds claim he secured different loans with the same jewelry and then sold some of it, including a $10 million butterfly brooch.
Later, in 2008, the company declared bankruptcy. Esmerian allegedly embezzled property from Fred Leighton, sold it and kept the money for himself, sources said.
He stands accused of lying about the location of millions of dollars of missing collateral. Some of the fraud was discovered by Merrill Lynch, and some was discovered during the bankruptcy proceedings.
Fred Leighton, Ltd. itself faced tax fraud charges in 2005, ultimately pleading guilty to "sidestepping" sales taxes by forging shipping documents to make it look like purchases were being sent out-of-state.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office said Esmerian is still awaiting arraignment.