- Eliot Kleinberg Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Lewis Bennett entered a not-guilty plea Tuesday to transporting stolen coins and was officially informed his trial is set for Dec. 11.
Tuesday’s hearing in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, which lasted less than a minute, never mentioned Bennett’s wife, Isabella Hellmann, whose disappearance in May has drawn far more interest than how he came to be in possession of thousands of dollars worth of stolen collectible coins. But the two incidents are inextricably linked.
It’s been more than four months since Bennett reported Hellmann, the 41-year-old suburban Delray Beach real estate broker and the mother of his child, had vanished in the Atlantic between the Bahamas, Key West and Cuba. Two separate federal agencies are looking into that disappearance, although neither the U.S. Coast Guard nor the FBI will say what it’s found so far or when it will finish.
Neither agency has publicly said it suspects any foul play.
Bennett separately filed court papers last week in Palm Beach County Circuit Court to have Hellmann declared dead so he may close out her estate. It’s not the first time he’s done that. In May, Bennett wrote to the U.S. Coast Guard within a day after it called off its four-day search and requested a “letter of presumed death,” something that agency said said it was not authorized to do.
In the early hours of May 15, the couple was on a belated honeymoon sail aboard Bennett’s boat, Surf Into Summer, when he called the Coast Guard to say he was about 30 miles west of Cay Sal in the Bahamas and woke to find the catamaran had struck something Bennett said he went on deck to find Hellmann gone and his vessel taking on water.
The Coast Guard rescued Bennett and flew 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, now 14 months old, to his native England, where his parents live. Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office will say how Bennett, who was believed to be in England, returned to Florida and was arrested.
Bennett, 40, was moved from the Keys to Palm Beach County, along with more than 400 other inmates, when Hurricane Irma made its way to Florida. He later was moved again to the Broward County Jail. The courthouse in Key West remains closed for now but the Dec. 11 trial has been set for that venue. Bennett remains held without bond for now.
On Tuesday, Bennett came into court with another defendant, both clad in navy jumpsuits, chains wrapped around their waists and attached to their cuffed wrists. He spoke briefly to his laywer, Paul Walsh of West Palm Beach, then moments later stood with Walsh to enter his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow. Walsh later declined to comment.