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Rescued Briton admits smuggling stolen coins on his catamaran

A British man who was rescued when his catamaran sunk off the coast of Cuba has admitted he was smuggling stolen coins.

Lewis Bennett’s wife, Isabella Hellmann, disappeared and he was rescued alone when the boat went down in May.

The 40-year-old is now facing up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty in federal court in Miami to transporting stolen property.

Bennett, a British-Australian dual citizen, had reported the gold and silver coins as stolen from his employer’s boat in St Maarten, about a year before he was caught with them.

He said he and his wife, a 41-year-old estate agent, had flown to St Maarten on 29 April, for the sailing trip which was a late honeymoon.

They had then sailed with the coins to Puerto Rico and then Cuba, but as they returned home from Havana to Florida on 15 May, he made an SOS call.

He said he had woken up after hearing a loud thud and had last seen his wife the evening before. She had been in charge of the boat.

Bennett was rescued from his life raft with what a coastguard called an “unusually heavy bag”, but left behind some of the stolen coins. He reported his wife as missing while the boat was sinking.

His wife mysteriously vanished after the catamaran sunk
His wife mysteriously vanished after the catamaran sunk

The coins were returned to him a week later at the Florida home he had shared with Ms Hellmann and their daughter, who is now 19-months-old.

On the same day they were returned, the FBI realised Bennett had reported the coins as stolen and went back to his home to search it.

They found another 162 gold coins hidden in a pair of boat shoes, which were valued at $38,480 (£28,500).

Bennett previously pleaded not guilty, but announced he would change his plea two weeks ago, at which point his trial was cancelled.

He was remanded in custody, to be sentenced on 12 February, where he faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 (£180,000).

The Palm Beach Post reports Bennett has been trying to have his wife declared dead so he can settle her estate but a judge is refusing to make the ruling.

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