Houston diamond dealer arrested in Congo

February 18, 2011 12:10:08 PM PST
A Houston diamond dealer with a criminal record is one of four businessmen who was arrested earlier this month in eastern Congo and suspected of gold smuggling, according to a newspaper report.

Edward Carlos St. Mary is being detained in Goma, a city near the border with Rwanda, along with two Nigerians and a French citizen, the Houston Chronicle reported Friday.

The U.S. State Department said the men are being held along with the flight crew that brought them on a chartered Gulfstream. At least one crew member, Kelly Shannon, also is from Houston.

The businessmen are being held under close guard, and the flight crew is under house arrest at a hotel. The cash was seized by the government and the plane, owned by Dallas-based Southlake Aviation and apparently leased for the trip, was impounded.

Provincial Governor Julien Paluku had told The Associated Press earlier this month the arrests were made on Feb. 3 after a car chase from the Goma airport. Paluku said the businessmen had come on a "mission of buying gold."

St. Mary and the others were stopped after arriving on a private jet with more than $6 million that they were to exchange for gold.

St. Mary, 40, who lives in the affluent Houston suburb of The Woodlands, has been accused by investors in Houston and Arizona of bilking them out of large amounts of money. He has not been criminally charged with financial wrongdoing.

Court records show default judgments against him totaling more than $1.5 million and an agreed order to repay $700,000 more. Attorneys for investors said St. Mary has repaid none of the amount agreed to in any settlements, the Chronicle reported.

St. Mary, a former standout quarterback at a Houston high school and a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, does have a criminal record that includes a guilty plea to unlawful carrying of a weapon and an arrest for assault.

Pat Shannon, the husband of Kelly Shannon, one of the crew members of the plane that had ferried St. Mary and the others, said his wife and the other crew members are being treated reasonably well and are allowed to communicate with relatives. But Shannon said his wife is concerned about when she and the other crew members will be freed.