A former West Haven man awaiting extradition from Spain to face charges of killing the owner of a Westport custom jewelry business and stealing $300,000 worth of diamonds has died -- an apparent suicide -- in a Spanish prison.
Andrew Robert Levene, also known as Robert Thomas, was found dead in Thursday morning of a Spanish prison, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, who added that Spanish police have yet to confirm the circumstances of Levene's death.
"At this point all we can really confirm is that the Spanish authorities reported early this morning to our consulate in Barcelona that Mr. Levene had died, and that they were conducting an investigation into the causes and circumstance of his death," Jeffrey Galvin, the press attachÃ© in the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, wrote in an email.
"I can't confirm that it was suicide, that will have to come from the Spanish authorities," Galvin added. "We have informed his family members, and will provide them with assistance if requested."
However, both Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and a report on the Hartford Courant's website, citing law-enforcement sources, described Levene's death as a "suicide."
The Spanish website, lavanguardia.com., citing sources close to the investigation, reported Thursday that Levene hanged himself with items of clothing in his cell at the Modelo prison in Barcelona.
Spanish authorities have opened an investigation into the cause and means of Levene's death. A representative of the U.S. Consulate's office had met Wednesday with Levene at his Barcelona cell. Galvin said his office also has contacted Levene's family.
Levene, a 41-year-old former Army Ranger, had personal debt of more than a half-million dollars when he was arrested Tuesday in Barcelona, and charged with fatally shooting Yekutiel Zeevi, the 65-year-old owner of Y.Z. Jewelry at Compo Shopping Center in Westport, and wounded one of Zeevi's business associates the night of Dec. 8 before fleeing with the gems. He was facing federal murder, robbery and firearms charges.
According to the federal criminal complaint filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Levene met with Zeevi in the shop, located in a locked second-floor suite in the Post Road East shopping center, pretending he was going to purchase several large diamonds he had arranged to buy earlier that week.
Authorities say Levene then shot Zeevi and another man, diamond merchant Ronen Konfino, 48, of New York City, before fleeing. A few days later, he flew from Philadelphia to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, a hub of the international diamond trade, and then traveled to Spain where his wife and two children were already living, authorities said.
Westport Police Chief Dale Call, while confirming that Levene is dead, on Thursday evening said he did not know the circumstances.
"What I can say is that it is certainly a tragedy for all involved on many different levels," Call said. "We continue our investigation into the crime -- Levene's death does not mean that stops -- and will do so as long as we need to."
Thomas Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Connecticut, had no immediate comment Thursday on the report of Levene's death.
Though Levene had been facing extradition for a federal court trial in Connecticut, it was unclear how smoothly that process may have proceeded since the U.S. extradition treaty with Spain appears to block the transfer of a suspect if he or she were to face the death penalty in this nation.
In part, the treaty reads: "When the offense for which the extradition is requested is punishable by death under the laws of the requesting Party, extradition shall be denied unless the requesting Party provides such assurances as the requested Party considers sufficient that the death penalty shall not be imposed, or, if imposed, shall not be executed."
According to accounts of Levene's arrest Tuesday by Spanish national police, he was living with his family in the Pau Casals district of Barcelona, and officers confiscated several items at the residence related to the criminal investigation. They did not, however, find any arms, according to the account in El Pais, a Spanish national daily and its website.
A factor that may have played a role in Levene's alleged plans to stage a diamond heist was the enormous debt that he faced, according to delawareonline.com, the website of the Wilmington News Journal. Levene, at one time, had been a Delaware resident.
When Levene returned to the U.S. last Dec. 5, after spending several months in Spain with his family, authorities said that he -- often using the alias, Robert Thomas -- cased several jewelry stores in the Philadelphia area and in Fairfield County. He indicated at several of those stores -- including Zeevi's -- that he was considering the acquisition of expensive gems, authorities said.
If stealing jewels was Levene's intent, as federal investigators charged, his indebtedness of more than $500,000 may have been a factor in the crime he was accused of committing -- with fatal consequences three days later in Westport.
Several civil lawsuits were filed against Levene in Delaware Superior Court during the short time that he lived there, according to delawareonline.com.
In the most recent complaint, Silverleaf Business Solutions LLC based in Stamford sued Levene for failure to pay a $300,000 promissory note taken out in November 2007, delawareonline.com reports. Levene till owed approximately $556,000 with interest, the delawareonline.com report adds.
Benabby Inc. Disaster Specialist in Nantucket, Mass., forwarded documents from Massachusetts asking the Delaware courts to enforce payment from Levene in an August 2010 suit for approximately $19,900, according to court records, the website also reported.
Another suit, filed in July 2010 suit in Chancery Court in Delaware, was related to a failed property deal that apparently left Levene in "personal poverty," delawareonline.com reported.
The plaintiffs in that case said Levene sought $445,000 from them to purchase land in Crested Butte, Colo., to build a luxury home, which was later destroyed by fire, according to delawareonline.com. "The suit claimed Levene received more than $2 million in insurance proceeds from the fire but failed to distribute the money to the investors, who had a 42 percent stake in the deal, or provide them with any financial records," according to the report.
In April 2011, the plaintiffs dropped the suit after apparently resolving their differences, delawareonline.com said.
"The suicide of the man accused in the Westport murder is a tragedy for all concerned," Joseloff, the first selectman, said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
"Not only has the suspect taken the life of a beloved Westport resident and caused immeasurable pain to the Zeevi family and friends here, he has now inflicted the same pain on his own family, also innocents in this tragedy. It is a cowardly confirmation of his guilt.
Joseloff added the "death of the accused murder suspect by his own hands will not diminish the extraordinary efforts demonstrated by Westport police, state and federal authorities, and Spanish police in tracking him down.
"Hours and hours of police work culminating in the arrest should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of committing a similar heinous crime that they will be caught -- no matter how difficult and distant the trail."