La Jolla Jeweler accused of multiple scams closes shop on Wall Street

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Longtime la Jolla jeweler Karl Winchell vacated his space at 1123 Wall St. this month, shortly after San Diego Police launched an investigation of his business practices, which include multiple court cases filed claiming Winchell scammed customers out of their valuables and/or money. Pat Sherman

By Pat Sherman

One of the focuses of a La Jolla Light investigation into consignment stores, Karl Winchell of Winchell Jewelry Designs, closed shop this month, following the launch of a San Diego Police investigation into his business practices, including multiple claims that he scammed customers of jewelry and cash (read the Light’s story at

bit.ly/jewelryclaims

).

Meryl Bernstein, a detective sergeant with San Diego Police's Northern Division, said she sent a report outlining the claims of five alleged victims to the Economic Crimes division of the San Diego County District Attorney’s office for possible prosecution.

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Karl Winchell.

“I know there are other victims out there,” Bernstein said, noting she is concentrating her efforts on those with the most solid evidence against Winchell. “Unfortunately, our victims did not sign any kind of consignment contract; they were only given handwritten receipts like you would be given at a dry cleaners.”

Although Bernstein said she does not know whether the DA’s office will open a case against Winchell — due to the civil nature of most consignment transactions — she said it has expressed a strong, initial interest.

Bernstein said she at first thought it would be difficult to prove criminal intent — since Winchell didn’t enter into official consignment contracts with his alleged victims — but the number of victims that have emerged makes it easier to do so. “I see a pattern, and the pattern is very similar,” she said.

Several alleged victims have filed civil court cases against Winchell, including retired sheet metal worker James Hall, who won the maximum allowable judgment against Winchell in small claims court April 10.

Hall, whom the

Light

interviewed for its earlier story, said he dropped off a diamond engagement ring at Winchell’s shop in May 2013 to be sold at consignment. He said Winchell never returned the ring nor paid him for it, only offering excuses each time he called the shop as to why the ring could not be returned, or why Hall could not be paid for it. Hall said the excuses included the ring being at an appraisal lab, being laser enhanced, on a national jewelry road show or misplaced.

“I demanded my ring many times,” Hall told Judge Peter Doft in court April 10. “The delays kept coming. I became convinced that Karl never intended to return my ring, and would never pay me either. ... Finally, (Winchell) told me he had the ring altered and sold for $16,000 and to just forget about it, because the lawyers would take more than the selling price.” Winchell told Judge Doft he hadn’t paid

Hall because a customer was purchasing his ring on layaway, and because Hall allegedly made threats against him while protesting outside his store, after which Winchell said police advised him, “don’t confront this guy; don’t talk to him because he’s out of control.”

“I have the money,” Winchell maintained in court, telling Judge Doft that he decided to let the court decide if and when he should pay Hall.

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