Former customers are heading to court to recover jewelry valued at more than $115,000

By Gary Walker
For a decade and a half, Universal Jewelers was a favorite place for locals to buy jewelry, have it repaired or consign it for sale at the store’s location in the Waterside at Marina del Rey mall.

But now the legacy of the store — which closed abruptly in October following the death of owner Arnold Smith — is being tarnished by accusations of fraud.

Several former clients who had rings, bracelets and watches on consignment with Universal Jewelers when the store shuttered have filed or are about to file lawsuits alleging that the valuables they entrusted to Universal have either vanished or have been sold or pawned without their knowledge or permission.

Six former Universal clients have come forward to demand the return of their property, which in some cases the former jewelry store has held for nearly six months.

Mar Vista attorney David Yardley represents a woman who says she had nine pieces of jewelry valued at more than $100,000 on consignment with Universal that she hopes to recover. Yardley said he plans to file a civil fraud lawsuit next week against Universal Jewelers, Smith’s widow Yupa Kalayar and Universal Jewelers attorney Dana Douglas.

“The store was closed immediately [after Smith’s passing] and none of their clients knew what had happened with their jewelry,” said Yardley, whose client wishes to remain anonymous until the case is filed.

Consignment agreements typically involve clients giving a jewelry store the right to resell or in some cases pledge or pawn certain items, with the merchant taking a cut of the profit.

Yardley said that after several calls and emails Douglas contacted him on Nov. 30, and during that conversation Yardley learned that some of his client’s jewelry had been pledged at Westside Loan Office Inc. in downtown Los Angeles, a transaction his client did not authorize.

“My interpretation of the agreement is that Universal Jewelers did not have the right to pawn my client’s jewelry. I believe that each victim was giving Universal Jewelers possession of their jewelry to put in their display cases to sell to the general public,” he said.

The Argonaut made multiple calls to Douglas’ office in Granada Hills that were not returned.

Anita Eisenschiml, who lives in Playa Vista, told The Argonaut that she has had two diamond tennis bracelets on consignment with Universal since June and is extremely frustrated that neither Douglas nor Kalaya has helped her find out what has happened to them. She is suing Universal in small claims court for $5,500.

Eisenschiml learned that Universal had closed when she went to the store in late October to retrieve some jewelry she had left there for repairs. Eisenschiml said Kalayar had a former Universal employee return some of her jewelry, but not the two diamond tennis bracelets she’d left with Smith on consignment.

Eisenschiml said Kalayar had told her that Douglas was handling all Universal business.

“I called Douglas, who told me that there was a lot of jewelry and it would take a long time to go through everything. I was livid. We trusted them,” Eisenschiml said.

Kalayar could not be reached for comment.

Marina del Rey resident Shawna Gabdois had a consignment agreement with Universal stipulating that her platinum engagement ring — valued at $11,000, according to the contract — would be returned to her upon her request unless “said item(s) have been pledged, placed on layaway or is/are being presented to a prospective buyer offsite.” It is not yet clear whether legal action is pending in her case.

Eisenschiml and two other former Universal customers filed crime reports with the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station and were told that an investigation has been opened.

A new jewelry store called Ozel has since opened in the former Universal Jewelers  location.