Attorney says woman accused of ripping off Marina del Rey jewelry store customers is herself a victim of shady practices by the deceased owner — who wasn’t really her husband

By Gary Walker

The woman accused of absconding with more than $400,000 worth of consignments, deposits and other valuables after the abrupt closure of Universal Jewelers in Marina del Rey is actually the victim of a dead man’s malfeasance, her defense attorney told The Argonaut.

Yupa Kalayar, 39, was charged with felony grand theft last year after investigators found customer’s missing jewelry in pawn shops throughout the area. Consignments and items left at Universal for repair disappeared after the store shuttered in October 2015 following the death of Arnold Smith, who founded the business more than two decades ago.

On Feb. 3, Kalayar — who was married to Smith, or at least that’s what she and customers had believed — pleaded not guilty during an arraignment hearing at the Airport Courthouse in Westchester.

Attorney Sanford Perliss, who represents Kalayar, said he intends to prove that unorthodox business practices by Smith are to blame for customers’ missing jewelry winding up in pawn shops.

“My client is not guilty of wrongdoing, and we’re going to prove that in court. My client is a victim here as well,” Perliss asserted.

Perliss also said that Smith tricked Kalayar into believing the two were legally married, and that Kalayar is not legally responsible for how Smith ran Universal Jewelers.

“My client worked at a business as an employee. The owner passed away. He ran it his way for many, many years — no one else’s way,” Perliss said. “He had a very unusual way of doing business that she was not a part of.”

During Kalayar’s arraignment hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Keith Schwartz advised her to make restitution to victims of theft in order to avoid serious jail time.

“I’m the only judge in this courthouse who would allow you to make that type of arrangement. You’re looking at two to three years in jail with other judges if you get convicted,” Schwartz said. “So if you’re convicted, bring a lot of toothbrushes.”

It is not clear whether Schwartz would be Kalayar’s trial judge. She is out on bail and returns to court in March.

There are at least two civil cases against Kalayar and Universal, and in recent weeks more former Universal customers have publicly blamed her for their lost jewelry.

Perlis said Kalayar feels for those who lost their property due to the way Smith conducted business.

“Nobody feels good about losing their jewelry or money. But my client is a victim too, and the evidence will prove that,” he said.

gary@argonautnews.com