CINCINNATI -- A large yellow diamond -- known as the "Golden Eye" -- seized in a federal drug and money-laundering investigation in northeast Ohio is going on the auction block with the minimum starting bid set at $900,000.
The 43.51-carat diamond belonged to a northeast Ohio businessman who was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy. Prosecutors said he tried to sell to an undercover FBI agent the diamond and an estate once owned by boxer Mike Tyson, all for $19.5 million and a boat.
The gem -- about an inch long, almost ¾-inch wide and nearly ½-inch deep -- was seized in the sting operation and forfeited to the federal government.
It is believed to be one of the largest internally flawless yellow diamonds, said Jenny Lynch, a spokeswoman for the online auction company Bid4Assets. The company, based in Silver Spring, Md., will auction the diamond next month for the U.S. Marshals Service.
"This is the largest and most valuable diamond that we have auctioned in our company's 12-year history," Lynch said. The stone, which has a rectangular brilliant cut crown with 25 facets, is an intense yellow color.
"This precious gem is sure to generate interest worldwide," Peter Elliot, U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Ohio, said in a statement.
The diamond auction already has attracted interest in the United States and abroad, said Lisa Black coordinator for the forfeiture unit in the Marshals Service's northern Ohio district. After the starting bid of $900,000, bids must increase in increments of $110,000, according to the www.Bid4Assets.com/Diamond43 website, which had more than 9,000 page views for the gem through Friday afternoon
There is a hefty cost to even submit a bid for the diamond.
A refundable deposit of $180,000 is required for viewing the gem in Cleveland the week of Aug. 29-Sept. 2 and for bidding on it during the auction that begins Sept. 6 and ends Sept. 8, Deputy U.S. Marshal Ryan Helfrich said.
Officials would not release the appraised value of the Golden Eye, but federal prosecutors previously have said it could be worth millions.
The origin of the diamond remains shrouded in mystery, and authorities say they do not know where the former owner -- Alliance businessman Paul Monea -- acquired it. The Marshals Service has not been able to determine the mine of origin, but says it has no connection to any famous historic diamond.
Tom Moses, a senior vice president with the Gemological Institute of America that graded the diamond, said it likely came from southern Africa, especially because of its stronger yellow color.
"Historically, these kinds of larger yellow diamonds have come from that area," he said. "What makes this one rare is its color and clarity combined with its large size. The more yellow it has, the higher the value."
The institute grades diamonds for quality, but does not make pricing valuations.
Monea, who made millions in the `90s on infomercials that sold Tae Bo exercise videos, was convicted in May 2007 of money laundering and conspiracy in federal court in Akron. Authorities said Monea was trying to sell the Golden Eye diamond and the estate once owned by boxer Mike Tyson to an FBI agent posing as a broker for a drug cartel when he was caught in the sting operation.
Monea bought the 25,000-square-foot mansion in northeast Ohio's Trumbull County from Tyson in 1999 for $1.3 million, according to county records. Now 64, Monea was sentenced in 2007 to 12 ½ years in prison. He is scheduled to be released from a federal prison in Ohio in 2018.
After the diamond was confiscated in the sting operation, it was claimed by numerous people -- including two of Monea's children, a New York minister and a California business owner. But a federal judge in 2009 ruled that the government could keep the diamond, and a federal appeals court in Cincinnati affirmed that ruling last year. The final forfeiture order was issued in March, allowing the Marshals Service to proceed with selling the diamond.
Some of the proceeds from the sale will go to victims in the Monea case, and some will go to the federal government and state and local agencies that helped in the investigation, the Marshals Service said.