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Celebrity jeweler guilty for role in $12M diamond caper

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — A celebrity jeweler known for auctioning the engagement ring President Donald Trump gave ex-wife Marla Maples pleaded guilty Monday to orchestrating a $12 million diamond caper.

Joseph DuMouchelle, 58, owner of DuMouchelle Fine & Estate Jewelers in Birmingham, faces up to 12 1/2 years in federal prison for his role in a criminal case that involves millionaires, phony documents, blue bloods and "The Yellow Rose," a rare 77-carat diamond.

Joseph DuMouchelle

DuMouchelle tricked North Dakota businessman Thomas Ritter into wiring $12 million to invest in the diamond last year. Instead, DuMouchelle on Monday admitted withdrawing most of the money and spending the cash.

“And you sent a fraudulent receipt, making it appear to Thomas Ritter that you purchased The Yellow Rose, is that correct?” U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith asked.

“Yes, your honor, that’s correct,” DuMouchelle said.

Goldsmith tentatively set sentencing for January.

Prosecutors believe Ritter is among 26 victims who either gave DuMouchelle money or jewelry to sell, Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Reynolds said. The government believes the loss to victims is more than $25 million, though DuMouchelle lawyer Jonathan Epstein believes the loss could be less.

“New victims are showing up on our doorstep frequently,” Reynolds said.

DuMouchelle, wearing a dark suit, white dress shirt and blue tie, pleaded guilty via videoconference Monday because the federal court is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has lived in Florida since 2008.

DuMouchelle, a scion of the influential family that founded DuMouchelle Art Galleries in Detroit, was first charged with a crime in November. In June, federal prosecutors filed a criminal information against the jeweler charging him with wire fraud, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. 

The Yellow Rose diamond is portrayed in a federal criminal complaint as a means for DuMouchelle to escape mounting financial problems, including money owed to Ritter.

Early last year, DuMouchelle devised a scheme to obtain money through a scheme involving fraudulent pretenses, prosecutors said.

At the time, the jeweler owed $430,000 to Ritter, according to a criminal complaint filed last year.

DuMouchelle pitched a deal that entailed buying the diamond from a Texas family, selling at a profit and splitting the money, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit filed in federal court last year.

The emerald-cut gem, set in platinum with more than 5 carats of yellow and white baguette diamonds, would cost $12 million but could be sold for $16 million, DuMouchelle said, according to the court filing.

DuMouchelle falsified documents and emails to make it look like the $12 million from Ritter would be wired to the Yellow Rose seller, according to the criminal information.

"In fact, the wire transfer directions DuMouchelle sent (Ritter) were for DuMouchelle's Bank of America account ... and at that time there was no actual buyer for the Yellow Rose," prosecutors wrote.

In this image provided by auctioneer Joseph DuMouchelle is the Harry Winston-designed engagement ring which Donald Trump gave to Marla Maples in 1993.

At the time, DuMouchelle's bank account contained $500.

Ritter wired the money Feb. 6, 2019, and DuMouchelle sent a phony receipt, according to the criminal information.

"DuMouchelle lured his victims into believing his false promises because he held himself out to be an expert with valuable connections that would earn the victims substantial profits, but it was all a lie,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said in a statement Monday.

The alleged crime unfolded while DuMouchelle underwent financial problems.

DuMouchelle and his wife filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 11, listing almost $2.3 million in assets and $23.4 million in liabilities.

His property included a 2018 Dodge Challenger Demon worth $125,000.

The car, however, disappeared Oct. 6, five days before DuMouchelle filed bankruptcy, according to court records. The Demon was "stolen in St. Clair Shores in Fishbones parking lot," according to bankruptcy records.

DuMouchelle has drawn headlines in recent years for different reasons.

Four years ago, DuMouchelle sold the 7.45-carat diamond engagement ring Trump gave to his second wife, Maples, an actress and TV personality.

The giant rock sold for $300,000 to an anonymous bidder at an auction at New York City's Lotte Palace Hotel.

The ring was originally sold in 2000 for $110,000 following the couple's divorce in 1999. Maples had DuMouchelle handle the first auction.

The American couple who bought the ring before asked the same auctioneer, DuMouchelle, to sell it.

DuMouchelle, son of the late famed auctioneer Lawrence DuMouchelle, has a roster of celebrity clients that once included Aretha Franklin. According to his website, DuMouchelle has sold notable pieces, including a silver necklace once worn by the actress Elizabeth Taylor in the film "Young Toscanini."

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @RobertSnellnews