A dual citizen of Australia and the United Kingdom pleaded guilty Thurday in federal court to transporting stolen gold and silver collectible coins, a violation of interstate and foreign commerce laws.
Lewis Bennett, 40, of Delray Beach admitted to one count of transporting stolen property valued at $5,000 or more in interstate or foreign commerce. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 12 before U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King in Key West. Bennett faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
According to court documents, in May 2016, Bennett was serving as a crew member aboard the sailboat Kitty R. On or about May 5, 2016, collectible gold and silver coins were stolen from the boat while the vessel was in St. Maarten in the Caribbean. Bennett knew the location where the coins were on the boat and filed a police report in St. Maarten about the stolen coins, federal authorities said.
On May 15, 2017, the U.S. Coast Guard received an emergency alert from about 26 nautical miles from Cay Sal Bank, Bahamas, in international waters. A Coast Guard helicopter rescued Bennett from a life raft and transferred him to Florida Keys Marathon International Airport. Bennett told the Guard he had been aboard an approximately 40-foot catamaran with his wife and deployed his life raft after his catamaran began taking on water.
Collectible coins stolen from the Kitty R were recovered from Bennett’s life raft and his house in Palm Beach County. As of May 15, 2017, the market value of the recovered gold and silver coins was about $38,480.00. Bennett had knowingly transported the coins from St. Maarten to the United States.
Bennett’s wife Isabella Hellmann, 41, was with him on the 37-foot catamaran, he told officials. She’s never been seen again.
Bennett was rescued about four hours after he called the Coast Guard reporting that he abandoned his sinking vessel and could not find his wife
Hellmann’s body was never found. The FBI, which investigated the coin case along with agents from Coast Guard Investigative Services, would not comment when asked if Bennett is being investigated in relation to his wife’s disappearance.