He reported his wife lost on the seas, but Lewis Bennett had a stash of collectible silver and gold coins with him as their boat sank and he floated on a raft, according to federal authorities.
Bennett has been arrested on charges of transporting stolen goods valued at $5,000 or more, according to a federal complaint released Monday. He is set to appear in federal court in Key West on Tuesday.
Bennett told authorities that he and newlywed wife Isabella Hellmann, with whom he shared a daughter, were on a belated honeymoon sail through the Caribbean when he was awakened in the early hours of May 15 to find Hellmann gone and his catamaran taking on water.
Bennett was found floating on a raft on at 3 a.m. May 15. He told rescuers that he and his wife were bound for Florida from Cuba.
When the U.S. Coast Guard rescued Bennett, authorities noticed he’d loaded a suitcase and two backpacks on the raft but had taken only one backpack with him when he was pulled off the raft by the Coast Guard rescuer, who “noticed that his backpack was unusually heavy.”
For four days the U.S. Coast Guard searched the waters near the Bahamas with two airplanes, two helicopters and two ships for Hellmann. Her body was never found.
Bennett’s life raft was recovered and brought to Key West. Found aboard: a suitcase; a backpack; unexpended parachute flares; buoys; 14 gallons of water; and nine plastic tubes that were found to contain some 225 of stolen coins.
The coins were returned to Bennett on May 23 but then retrieved the same day, with Bennett’s consent, after authorities realized they had been stolen a year earlier from a sailing vessel, the Kitty R, based on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten.
Bennett had been working as a crew member on the vessel, according to an affidavit.
He filed a police report to St. Maarten authorities on May 8, 2016, saying the boat had been burglarized while he and the owner of the boat were not on board.
“Among the items that Bennett, on behalf of the victim, reported stolen were ‘gold and silver coins,’” according to federal authorities.
Law enforcement officials took pictures of the coins found on Bennett’s rescue raft and sent them to the owner of the Kitty R, who identified them as the coins missing in the burglary.
The coins were valued at $4,200, according to the victim’s records and various databases. They included 158 “Year of the Horse” English silver coins and 77 Canadian Maple Leaf coins, the arrest papers state.
The coins “only account for a portion of the total amount of coins stolen,” the affidavit said.
The FBI and U.S. Coast Guard went to Bennett’s Delray Beach apartment on June 16 and found more gold coins – 162 of them – in a small case, hidden in a pair of boat shoes, the affidavit said.
Those coins were photographed and sent to the owner of the boat. The coins were identified as those missing, federal authorities said.