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$125K Jewels Found In Old DTLA Safe Returned To Rightful Owner

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When an old safe revealed a lunchbox full of jewelry, the finders decided not to play keepers and instead tracked down the correct owner. Scott Claster works for developer Naty Saidoff, overseeing construction on new projects. In 2012, Claster began working on the Maxfield Building in downtown Los Angeles' Fashion District, Downtown News reports. The 12-story building at 819 Santee St., which will eventually be turned into apartments, was built in 1924.

Claster found a huge safe on the mezzanine level, made from concrete with a steel door. It took them hours to open it, which they eventually did with the aid of locksmith David Liederman. The safe was largely empty save for old photos and random ephemera from the past, though Claster did find something interesting in a metal lunch pail: a bunch of jewelry wrapped in cloth.

Claster had the jewels appraised, and was offered $125,000 for all of it, which Claster rejected, deciding instead that he would figure out who it belonged to.

He started with Steve Needleman, the youngest son of Jack Needleman, a businessman who bought up several properties in downtown L.A. in the '60s. In his 1999 obituary, the L.A. Times described Jack Needleman as a high-school dropout who later went on to found Anjac, a clothing company, with his wife. They would own over 60 buildings and parking lots downtown.

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Needleman's name appeared on several of the papers Claster found in the safe, so Claster tracked him down. Needleman told him that the Maxfield was the first building his father owned and one they used as an office for 30 years. He sold the building in 2008 and removed what he thought was important from the safe. The new owners, Jade Enterprises, allowed the building to sit dormant for several years.

Needleman took the jewelry back and gave Claster a finder's fee of $2,000.

Claster's boss, Saidoff, asked Needleman to help him secure the building as a Historic-Cultural Monument, which would give them access to a tax credit to help pay for the building's rehab. Needleman gathered old photos and documents, and the City Council approved the designation this summer.

"We gave Steve some beautiful jewels back, and in return he gave us more than a million in value for our building. All of a sudden, we discovered how karma works," Saidoff told Downtown News.