BREAKING: Husband of missing Delray woman to change plea in coin case


Lewis Bennett — whose wife, Isabella Hellmann of suburban Delray Beach, disappeared at sea six month ago today — plans to change his not-guilty plea on federal charges that he transported as much as $100,000 in stolen coins, court documents show.

In a filing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King said that he will hold a “change of plea” hearing Nov. 30 in Miami and that Bennett’s Dec. 11 trial in Key West is canceled.

King’s order did not say how Bennett would change his plea. His options would be guilty, no contest or guilty of a lesser charge. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Marc Shiner, an attorney for Bennett on the criminal charges, said Wednesday through his West Palm Beach office that he had no comment. And U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman Annette Lima said Wednesday from Miami that because Bennett could change his mind between now and Nov. 30, federal prosecutors did not want to comment.

Relatives of Hellmann have not responded to numerous requests for comment since she went missing.

Bennett separately has been trying in Palm Beach County Court to have Hellmann, the mother of their now nearly 19-month-old daughter, declared dead so he can settle her estate. But a judge has refused to rule until she knows more. One of Hellmann’s sisters tried in June to take control of the estate but later dropped her efforts.

Read The Post’s complete coverage of the disappearance of Isabella Hellmann

Hellmann, a 41-year-old real estate broker, vanished off the Bahamas on May 15. Bennett, 40, has said the couple was on a delayed honeymoon sailing trip — they’d been married three months — when he awoke to find that his catamaran had struck something and was sinking, and that his wife was gone.

The Coast Guard called off its ocean search after four days.

A 134-page package of documents obtained in late August by The Palm Beach Post gave numerous details of the incident and the search that followed, such as the speed at which the boat sank and how the 5-foot-4, 110-pound Hellmann, might have fared after being thrown into the water.

Neither the FBI nor the Coast Guard has said whether it suspects foul play in Hellmann’s disappearance. Both agencies this week reiterated that their investigations remain active.

Bennett wrote to the Coast Guard within a day after it called off its search and requested, without success, a “letter of presumed death.” He later asked the local courts for the official declaration.

Mitchell Kitroser, who represented Hellmann’s sister in a failed attempt to wrest control of her assets from Bennett, said in September that, by Florida law, if Bennett is convicted on the felony count, he would be disqualified as the conservator, or controller, of his wife’s estate.

See a gallery of Coast Guard photos from the search for Isabella Hellmann.

The Coast Guard helicopter that rescued Bennett had flown him to Marathon where, federal prosecutors charge, authorities found coins on him that were stolen while he worked in May 2016 as a mate aboard a yacht in St. Maarten in the Caribbean. Because of that, the federal charges were filed in Key West.

Soon after his rescue, Bennett, a dual citizen of England and Australia, said in a social-media posting that he took the couple’s daughter to his native England, where his parents live. The girl is believed to still be in England.

Neither the FBI or the U.S. Attorney’s Office will say how Bennett returned to Florida and was arrested Aug. 28.

Bennett remained Wednesday  in the Broward County Jail, following a convoluted journey steered by Hurricane Irma. He was moved from the Keys to Palm Beach County, along with more than 400 other inmates, in early September, as Irma bore down on Florida. He later was moved again to Broward.

Federal prosecutors had detailed in court papers that they have a large volume of evidence in the case, including interviews, photographs and items confiscated during a June 16search of the Bennett-Hellmann condominium in suburban Delray Beach. The evidence itself is not public.



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