Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but sell her a fake one, and you’ve made an enemy.
Paul Blarr, the Williamsville jeweler accused of selling fakes, had no shortage of enemies and disillusioned customers Friday following his brief appearance in Village Court. Some were at the court session. Several others were visiting area jewelers, getting gems checked. For many, the news was not good.
Mary Baty went to another Williamsville jeweler Friday and asked him to examine the diamond she said she purchased from Blarr four years ago for $6,300.
It was worth $500, she was told.
“I’d planned to leave this diamond to my daughter. Now she can have it and buy an iPhone with it,” a disgusted Baty said.
She was just one of the many area residents learning what they purchased wasn’t what they thought they had bought. Several said they considered Blarr not only their personal jeweler but a friend.
And there is another twist to Blarr’s alleged deception, Amherst police revealed Friday.
The 47-year-old jeweler was not only selling fake diamonds for the cost of real ones, but he also apparently took authentic diamonds that customers gave him to sell on consignment, sold them at pawnshops and pocketed the money, police said.
“He’d replace the diamonds he sold at pawnshops with fake ones and when people found out what he was doing, he did not have the original diamond to give back to them,” said Capt. Enzio G. Villalta, chief of the Amherst Detective Bureau. “These are family heirlooms we’re talking about in some cases. We’re talking about thefts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
After police reported earlier this week that Blarr was charged with four felonies, police said more than 100 customers of his now-shuttered RSNP Diamond Exchange shop on Main Street have called detectives, worried that they were scammed.
“Every day we’re getting more and more calls, and what we are suggesting is that people first have the diamonds checked by jewelers to find out if they are fakes and, if they are, to call us and we will come out and take a report,” Villalta said Friday. “We assigned extra police officers to the Village Court this morning because people are very upset.”
In his court appearance before Village Justice Jeffrey Voekl, Blarr waived his right to a felony hearing.
Afterward, his defense attorney described Blarr as a victim of unscrupulous diamond dealers who sold him the fakes.
“Mr. Blarr spent hundreds of thousands of dollars believing these diamonds were real,” attorney Charles J. Marchese said. “We are cooperating with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, and we’re going to try and make everyone whole. I’d ask people to be patient.”
Williamsville jeweler Todd Scanlon said it is indeed possible for a jeweler to make a mistake and buy a look-alike diamond that is actually made from a mineral known as moissanite but that there are several tests that can be conducted right in a jewelry store to verify the authenticity of a diamond.
“We’ve had over 150 people into our shop this week, and 12 of the diamonds have been frauds, and I’m only one jeweler doing tests,” said Scanlon, who has worked as a jeweler more than three decades.
Testing for fakes
A surefire test to determine if a diamond is actually moissanite, according to Scanlon, is to hold the gem to a flame. If it turns green when heated, that proves beyond a doubt it is a fake.
“Real diamonds when heated will either turn orangish or not turn any color. There is nothing you can do to harm a diamond,” Scanlon said.
The other tests, which are not always foolproof, include:
• Placing the diamond under a microscope to check for flaws. All diamonds, Scanlon said, possess some flaws, while moissanite is flawless.
• Placing a handheld electrode sensor against the gem in question also can discern if it is real.
• Using a larger detector to shine a beam on the diamond; if it fails to respond with “a signature refraction” exclusive to diamonds, it is a fake.
The last thing a jeweler wants, said Scanlon, is to be swindled.
“When I buy diamonds, especially over the counter, I will first send them out to the Gemological Institute of America’s gem trade laboratory or the European Gemological Laboratory to have them certified,” Scanlon said of the practice that he said all reputable jewelers use to prevent fraud. “Depending on the size of the gem, the certification costs $150 to $200, but the certification increases the value of the diamond.”
Of the frauds he has verified this week, Scanlon said, the losses to Blarr’s customers range from $300 to $15,000.
“We are checking the diamonds people are bringing in at no charge,” he said, standing behind the counter of his shop at 5735 Main St., Williamsville.
There has been a wide range of reaction to the testing.
In 2007, Suzanne Werner said, she bought her husband a diamond ring for about $2,000 from Blarr based on years of positive experiences in purchasing other jewelry from him. But when she and Chris Werner learned Friday that the tiny diamonds in the ring were moissanite, they were upset, even though the value of the ring was not greatly diminished because the gems were small.
If there were real diamonds in the ring, Scanlon said, it would be worth about $4,000.
“I’m feeling two things. I’m relieved that it wasn’t my wife’s jewelry that was fake because that is worth about $40,000, and second, I’m sad but more (angry),” Chris Werner said. “We’d been dealing with him for 14 years. He was almost a friend.”
For Baty, Blarr was a family friend.
“When his wife had their first daughter, I gave them a baby gift,” Baty said. “I desperately want to believe Paul was scammed and did not do this knowingly. I want some explanation. I want something that makes sense, that he needed this money for an illness, a tragedy, that he needed our money more than we did.”
That aside, she says she is deeply relieved Blarr never followed through on her offer to let him visit her place of employment, Montgomery Park Independent Retirement Community in East Amherst.
“I had asked Paul some months back to come to appraise our residents’ jewelry and buy anything they might want to sell,” Baty recalled. “He said ‘yes’ immediately. I am so grateful that plans for that never came to fruition. I can’t imagine if some of our residents had been scammed. I couldn’t live with that.”
Another woman, whose husband purchased her a 15th wedding anniversary ring, which also represents her fifth anniversary in remission from cancer, said the ring was supposed to be picked up last week but is now part of the evidence Amherst police have in their custody.
Weeping as she explained their predicament, she said she does not know if the diamond in the ring is a fake or when she and her husband will be able to have it checked.
Call the police
Villalta said that Blarr’s customers who had items at the store and those who have verified that their diamonds are fakes should call 689-1340.
On the window of Blarr’s closed shop Friday afternoon was a sign saying he intended to open at a new location on Sweet Home Road and that he will do business by appointment only, working in a semi-retired capacity.
Assistant District Attorney Brian P. Dassero, who represented District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III at the court proceeding, said it was his understanding the Sweet Home location has not opened.
And of the felony grand larceny and scheme to defraud charges, the prosecutor said, “Technically the next step would be a presentation to the grand jury, but we still have to talk to victims, and the police investigation is continuing.”
Scanlon said he is skeptical about Blarr’s hopes to reimburse customers who unknowingly bought fake diamonds.
“He better be rich,” Scanlon said. “The value of the items that I’ve seen so far that are fake is at least $50,000 and, like I said, I’m only one jeweler.”