The Palm Beach Post reports that Lewis Bennett, husband of Isabella Hellmann, was arrested this week in West Palm Beach on charges that he stole six figures worth of gold and silver coins while working as a first mate on a ship in the Caribbean previous year.
The couple was out at sea in May when Hellmann somehow fell overboard from their catamaran in the Bahamas and was never found.
Lewis Bennett, 40, of Poole, United Kingdom, was arrested without incident, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Bennett has not yet been charged.
Bennett’s life raft was recovered and brought to Key West.
Bennett is due to appear in a Key West Federal Court in Florida on Tuesday. Authorities say Bennett told them he was sleeping when the boat struck something in the Florida Straits. He rushed up to the deck to discover Hellmann was not at the helm and was nowhere to be found. When he went topside to investigate, he saw that his wife was no longer where he had last seen her and said the boat was taking water.
Among Bennett’s belongings in the raft were 225 coins with a value of about £3,240, the complaint said. It is not certain if and when Bennett did go to England, and the Palm Beach Post report does not indicate where his daughter is now.
For four days the U.S. Coast Guard searched the waters near the Bahamas with two airplanes, two helicopters and two ships for Hellmann. The chopper’s crew dropped a rescue swimmer, who swam to Bennett’s raft. The rescue swimmer stated that his backpack was unusually heavy.
According to a criminal complaint, law enforcement became aware of coins that had been stolen from a sailing vessel named “KITTY R” that was located in St. Maarten in May 2016. He told police the coins had an estimated value of around $100,000. The owner didn’t file a claim, he said, because the items weren’t covered by his insurance policy.
Bennett left St. Maarten, flying to Miami International Airport on May 10, 2016. The FBI says the collectible coins that were recovered from the life raft only account for a portion of the total amount of coins that were stolen.
But at the time, Bennett was not under investigation and was allowed to return to his Delray Beach home with the backpack.
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.
Agents went back to Bennett’s house and he voluntarily turned over the coins, which were “still sealed in evidence bags”. After the owner of the coins confirmed they were his, authorities raided Bennett’s condo – where they found another 162 coins worth about $26,100 hidden in boat shoes, according to the federal complaint.