Federal prosecutors have detailed in court a trove of evidence related to Lewis Bennett’s arrest on charges he transported as much as $100,000 in stolen coins.
The evidence also might shed light on what authorities know about the reported disappearance of Bennett’s wife, suburban Delray Beach real estate broker Isabella Hellmann.
But while a list of the federal “discovery” was posted this week in the federal docket, the items themselves are not public. Unlike state courts, in the federal system, discovery is limited to the parties unless any of it is formally filed as an exhibit, U.S. Attorney’s spokeswoman Annette Lima said Thursday.
Neither she nor the attorney for Bennett would comment on either the discovery list or the case in general.
In the early hours of May 15, the newlywed couple was on a belated honeymoon sailing trip when Bennett called the Coast Guard to say he was about 30 miles west of Cay Sal in the Bahamas and had awoke to find the catamaran had struck something. Bennett said he went on deck to find that Hellmann, 41, was gone and his vessel was taking on water.
Attorneys for Bennett will be in court Oct. 19 to ask that a judge declare his wife dead. In May, Bennett wrote to the U.S. Coast Guard within a day after it called off its four-day search and requested, without success, a “letter of presumed death.”
The U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI both are conducting missing-person investigations. Neither will comment. And neither agency has said it suspects any foul play in the disappearance of Hellmann, the mother of the couple’s 15-month-old daughter.
A complaint says that, after the Coast Guard rescued Bennett and flew him to Marathon, authorities found coins on him that were stolen while he worked in May 2016 as a mate aboard a yacht.
Soon after his rescue, Bennett said in a social media posting that he took the couple’s daughter to his native England, where his parents live. Neither the FBI or the U.S. Attorney’s Office will say how Bennett returned to Florida and was arrested in West Palm Beach on Aug. 28.
Bennett, 40, remains in the Broward County Jail after pleading not guilty Sept. 26 in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale. He is being held without bond. His trial is set for Dec. 11 in Key West.
In the document filed Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s inventory includes:
— Photos of items recovered when Lewis was rescued.
— Two audio recordings, and a set of transcripts, of statements made by Bennett. Prosecutors said they interviewed him on May 19, the day after the Coast Guard search was called off, and again on May 23.
— Documents, data from equipment and both photos and video related to the Coast Guard’s search. In September, The Palm Beach Post documented a 158-page package of search materials that it obtained from the Coast Guard.
— Photos from a search of the 2006 Mercedes-Benz used by Bennett and Hellmann. Neighbors have said that on May 23, men wearing latex gloves searched the car and questioned Bennett as he stood nearby.
— Photos taken when investigators searched the Bennett-Hellmann condominium in suburban Delray Beach on June 16, and a copy of a recording found on a device there.
— Photos “from St. Maarten.” The document doesn’t elaborate, but it was in that locale, the Dutch side of a Caribbean island co-administrated with France, where the yacht owner said his coins were stolen in 2016.
— The criminal record of Bennett, a dual citizen of England and Australia, who spent long stretches at the Delray Beach condo, and who also spent great lengths of time in the Caribbean. Records show no previous arrests in the United States and only a December 2013 Juno Beach speeding ticket. He had gone 54 mph in a 45 mph zone.
— Photos of a catamaran similar to Bennett’s. The Australian Maritime Registry says Bennett submitted that Surf into Summer was built in 1986, and a yacht broker has told The Post a catamaran that old would be worth about $60,000. But the company that builds the yacht says on its web page that the model was first built in 2008. Online ads show that a model built in 2008 selling for between $275,000 and $400,000.
— A hard drive containing files “extracted from various electronic devices.”
— A notice that prosecutors have ordered transcripts of grand jury testimony by witnesses for the prosecution.