Former store director strikes last-minute deal to avoid jail time

By Gary Walker

Customers’ jewelry disappeared when Universal abruptly closed
in 2015

After months of denying any role in the disappearance of more than $400,000 worth of jewelry from Universal Jewelers in Marina del Rey, former store director Yupa Kalayar pled guilty last Friday to one count of misdemeanor grand theft.

Kalayar, 40, faced charges of absconding with customers’ valuables after Universal abruptly shuttered following the October 2015 death of owner Arnold Smith. She will receive three years of probation under the plea arrangement, L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Mougeh Tala-Ahmari said.

County prosecutors and defense attorney Sanford Perliss reached the plea deal at the Airport Courthouse in Westchester shortly before a jury trial was set to begin.

Kalayar has been sued in small claims court by former Universal clients who were shocked by the store’s closure and given no opportunity to recover rings, bracelets or watches they’d left at the store on consignment or for repair.

Anita Eisenschiml, a Playa Vista resident who’s still missing two gold tennis bracelets, was the sole victim to whom Kalayar was ordered to pay restitution. Eisenschiml had won a small claims verdict against Kalayar, and Perliss handed her a $2,500 cashier’s check prior to Kalayar’s sentencing.

“It seems like crime does pay after all,” Eisenschiml lamented after the plea deal was announced.

Venice resident Jeannie White, whose husband lost a Cartier watch he had left at Universal to be sold on consignment, was furious when she learned Kalayar would not receive jail time.

“Unbelievable! I think we have an abysmal judicial system,” said White. “It’s very disappointing that this was taken so lightly. Those people were complete scam artists.”

Perliss denied that his client had stolen the jewelry or committed fraud, even though victims say Kalayar had misrepresented herself as Smith’s wife and a co-owner of Universal.

During a February 2017 arraignment hearing, Perliss stated that Kalayar was not a co-owner of the store, that Smith had tricked her into thinking they were legally married, and that the jewelry went missing because Smith “had a very unusual way of doing business that she was not a part of.”

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

Perliss declined to comment on his client’s plea agreement outside court.

Tala-Ahmari confirmed that the conviction could affect Kalayar’s immigration status.

Late last year L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies recovered some Universal consignment jewelry that had been sold to various pawn shops throughout Los Angeles, said Det. Randy Lopez of the department’s Fraud and Cybercrimes Bureau. Victims were allowed to view photos of the recovered jewelry, and Eisenschiml identified some of those pieces as hers.

“Even after I won in small claims court, I wasn’t going to give up. I don’t like being ripped off, especially by someone that you trusted and had done business with for so long,” Eisenschiml said of why she decided to attend what would have been the first day of Kalayar’s criminal trial.

“The lesson here,” she said, “is to be careful who you trust.”