Team 10 uncovers flaws in San Diego jeweler's claims

Posted at 7:45 AM, Nov 05, 2012
and last updated 2014-10-30 18:14:26-04

A jeweler who claims he is nobility sells some of his expensive collection at auction in the name of charity, but Team 10 discovered serious flaws in the jeweler's credentials, a criminal file in his past and at least one item an expert says was not worth what the jeweler claimed.

The investigation started with a watch a man bought to help his child's school at a fundraiser in April.

Joel -- who only wanted to use his first name -- thought he got a good deal on the watch.

"It's got a price tag on it for $4,200," he said.

Joel's winning bid for the timepiece was $1,100, but his online research led him to question the value of the watch, which was donated to the school fundraiser from Baron & Baroness Jewels.

Team 10 brought it to a watch expert in Point Loma.

"Feels like a well-made watch," said Uilis Volpato, owner of Ipanema Watch & Jewelry. "Has a Swiss-made movement."

Team 10 Investigator Mitch Blacher asked how much the watch was worth.

"The watch as a whole I would say in the neighborhood of $100," Volpato said.

"What would you say to somebody who paid $4,000 for that watch?" Blacher asked.

"Terribly sorry," said Volpato.

"If you look into a higher end watch, there's an extraordinary level of finesse to the finishing. For the person that doesn't know, they look alike. For the professional who distinguishes one from the next -- a certainty."

The owner of Baron & Baroness Jewels, William David Leavitt, defended the price of the watch, which is part of his two-year-old private label watch line.

Leavitt, who also goes by W. David Leavitt and David Leavitt, declined an on-camera interview with Team 10, but responded in an email.

"Our watches use Swiss parts, and are assembled in the United States. The watches range from $3,800-$65,000," Leavitt wrote. He said of all of his products, "We sell the majority of our product through the Saks Fifth Avenue Corporation."

Leavitt's website claimed, "All items may be requested at any Saks Fifth Avenue location for viewing."

However, when Team 10 went to Saks Fifth Avenue in Costa Mesa to find a Baron & Baroness watch, the salesperson had never heard of the brand.

A representative at Saks' corporate office in New York told Team 10 Leavitt's jewelry items are "… available for viewing during trunk shows in select Saks Fifth Avenue stores." The representative was unable to comment on pricing procedure for the items at the shows.

After Team 10 contacted Saks' corporate office, Leavitt's website was changed to remove reference to the availability of his products at all Saks Fifth Avenue locations.

Leavitt and his wife, Hannah, live in a 6,200-square-foot home in Rancho Sante Fe. It's also their business address for Baron & Baroness Jewels, according to state documents.

"Baron and Baroness" is more than just a name for the business. Leavitt claims they are nobility -- the Baron and Baroness of Westminster.

Team 10 found a trademark application from the Leavitts. In the application, the Leavitts tell a federal agency that their jewelry line is "designed by W. David Leavitt, the Baron of Westminster."

"Is there a Baron of Westminster?" Team 10's Blacher asked Richard, Earl of Bradford.

"No," Richard said. "Complete fraud."

The Earl of Bradford is the real deal, according to nobility experts Team 10 contacted in England. He makes a hobby of exposing phony titles through his website, faketitles.com.

"They think it's going to give them a certain social status or prestige," Richard said. "The trouble is most of the time when these people get caught out, it does the complete opposite. It destroys any credibility that they've actually got."

Team 10 also asked the Crown Office of the House of Lords in London about the Baron and Baroness of Westminster. A House of Lords representative said, "Even if the individuals … claim to have purchased such a title it would not in any circumstances entitle them to use the style Baron/Baroness of Westminster."

At the time of this writing, Leavitt's trademark application was still under review by the federal agency, which prosecutes for false information on applications.

Team 10 took a closer look at Leavitt's background. On one of his business websites, Leavitt claims that he has a bachelor's degree from San Diego State University, a graduate gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America, and what Leavitt calls an "honoree Ph.D." from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Team 10 contacted each school and all had no record of those degrees for him. In fact, a spokesperson for UCLA said the university has not awarded honorary degrees since 1972, with the exception of 2009, for Japanese-American students who were in internment camps.

Leavitt made dozens of jewelry items available at a black-tie gala earlier this year, for UC San Diego's cardiovascular center. Leavitt promised half of the proceeds from the silent auction would go to the center.

His wife was photographed at the event wearing the priciest jewels up for bid -- a ruby-and-diamond necklace, bracelet, earrings and ring.

Leavitt said Elizabeth Taylor once owned the set, and he said the jewels were a gift to her from pop icon Michael Jackson.

Christie's Inc. sold a ruby and diamond set that belonged to the late actress in December 2011, for $60,000. Leavitt said he bought the set from the auction house. Christie's would not confirm that for Team 10, as buyers are not revealed.

Two months later, Leavitt listed the set's value at $1.2 million at the black-tie gala for the cardiovascular center. The starting bid was $500,000.

Team 10 asked about the dramatic increase in value -- from $60,000 to more than a million. Leavitt referred the question to his attorney, Robert K. Butterfield, who replied by email.

Butterfield wrote it "turned out the rubies were natural -- with no heat treatment" and therefore apparently justified the major value hike.

Team 10 asked to see the appraisal, but Leavitt said no through his attorney.

Team 10 also checked out Leavitt's claim that the set was a gift to Taylor from Michael Jackson. A spokesperson with The Elizabeth Taylor Trust said the claim was not true.

When the Elizabeth Taylor jewels did not sell at the San Diego gala, Leavitt made them available for an April fundraiser benefiting museums in San Francisco. At that silent auction, 10 percent of the proceeds went to the museum. The set also did not sell at that high-profile auction.

Team 10 also found a criminal file on William David Leavitt dating back to 1994. The case involved a stolen truck filled with antiques valued at $200,000. The victim was set to display the items at a show in La Jolla, and police said the truck was stolen.

*Click here to see the 1994 criminal charges document

The original charges against Leavitt read "conspiracy to commit a crime," "receiving stolen property" and "attempted extortion." Leavitt pleaded guilty to the charge of receiving stolen property. In return, prosecutors dropped the other charges.