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Feds: Ex-Pa. Drinks Maker Sold Ill-gotten Jewelry

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The former chief executive of a defunct soft-drink maker who is already awaiting trial on charges he perpetrated an $806 million bank fraud has been indicted again - this time on charges that he sold or tried to sell millions of dollars' worth of gold, jewels and other valuables he allegedly bought with money stolen from the company.

Gregory Podlucky, 50, of Ligonier, was released after he was arrested on the new federal indictment unsealed Thursday - but only after he agreed to turn over a $289,000 Jaeger-LeCoultre watch he allegedly tried to sell at Sotheby's in New York last month. Podlucky agreed to surrender the watch once a judge threatened to jail him overnight.

Thursday's indictment also charges Podlucky's wife, Karla, 49, and their son, G. Jesse Podlucky, 30, with buying gold, sapphires and even patio furniture with the proceeds allegedly stolen from Le-Nature's Inc., and then trying to sell some of those items through Sotheby's and other means.

Podlucky is scheduled for trial in July on a 2009 indictment charging him and four business associates with cooking the Latrobe company's books to overstate the company's revenues that enabled them to obtain $806 million in loans and equipment leases. Assistant U.S. Attorney James Garrett of Pittsburgh contends most of that money was never spent on the company, which Podlucky founded and which was forced into bankruptcy by creditors owed $700 million in 2006.

Federal agents who searched the company's headquarters at that time reported finding a secret room containing millions of dollars' worth of valuables, including gold, silver and platinum jewelry and diamond-rich watches.

Investigators believed there were other valuables they couldn't find during that search, and claim in the new indictment that they included three diamonds worth $539,000 the Podluckys allegedly sold through Sotheby's in October 2009 and seven sapphires worth $2.27 million also sold through the auction house in April.

The Podluckys are charged with money laundering and they're also accused of buying more than $11,000 worth of patio furniture with ill-gotten cash in June.

Podlucky, his wife and son pleaded not guilty to the new money-laundering indictment on Thursday and declined to comment as they left the courtroom.

Attorneys for Podlucky's wife and son argued Garrett, the prosecutor, wrongly threatened Gregory Podlucky with jail in order to get the family to incriminate themselves about the watch.

"We suggest that possession of that watch is, in itself, a crime," Garrett told U.S. Magistrate Judge Ira Swearingen.

Swearingen allowed the Podluckys to remain free without posting bond, though Gregory Podlucky must turn over the watch by 1:30 p.m. Friday or risk being sent to jail.