AUGUSTA — The owner of a downtown Augusta shop faces claims that the minerals and gems at his store aren’t his to sell.

The lawsuit against Levi “Sonny” Chavarie, owner of Sonny’s Museum and Mineral Shop, was filed by the family of his late wife and business partner, Priscilla. The lawsuit contends the jewelry, gems and other items Chavarie is selling at his new Water Street store belong to his late wife’s estate, not him.

An attorney representing Chavarie, meanwhile, contends the minerals and other items in his store were collected by him and his wife over their 34 years together, he sunk all his income into purchasing the items for the business they ran together before her death, and they are rightly his to sell.

The civil lawsuit was filed in Kennebec County Superior Court on behalf of Anne E. Rokeach, of Colonie, N.Y., whom the filing states is the personal representative of the estate of Priscilla S. Chavarie.

Priscilla S. Chavarie, who died in June 2010, was Rokeach’s mother, and Chavarie’s wife.

For many years, Priscilla ran the former Winthrop Mineral Shop on U.S. Route 202, first with her husband, Stearns J. Bryant, until his death in 1973, and then with Chavarie until the shop burned in 1988.

After the fire, the couple ran a mineral and gem business out of their Winthrop home.

Chavarie’s East Millinocket attorney, Wakine G. Tanous, said in a response to the lawsuit that Chavarie claims title and ownership of the items in question, that he and his wife operated the business together and that they had a joint checking account for the business.

He also said Chavarie is listed as the proprietor of the Winthrop Gem and Mineral Shop on federal and state income tax returns the couple filed jointly from 1985 to 1998 other than the years 1990 to 1992, and when Priscilla became disabled approximately five years before her death. In addition, Sonny Chavarie operated the business by himself, and, during the last two years of her life when Priscilla was in a wheelchair, Sonny “took care of her and all of her needs,” Tanous writes.

Rokeach, in the lawsuit filed by Winthrop attorney Phillip E. Johnson, said at her mother’s death that the inventory of the business became assets of her estate.

However, the lawsuit states, “in late November 2011, (Chavarie) surreptitiously and unlawfully removed all the remaining estate’s gems, gem stock, minerals, jewelry and other business inventory to his new shop on Water Street in Augusta, Maine. He calls his shop Sonny’s Museum and Mineral Shop and he sells the estate’s gems, gem stock, minerals and jewelry to customers as if they were his to sell.”

The lawsuit also claims Chavarie, who has prominently displayed photographs and newspaper clippings about his late wife at the shop, “is misappropriating her name and image to further his unlawful gain.”

In an interview shortly after the store opened, Chavarie said he opened the store as a tribute to his late wife.

The lawsuit seeks damages including the value of the items sold at Sonny’s Museum and Mineral Shop since it opened late last year, the return of the gems and other items to the estate, punitive damages, and an order banning Chavarie from any future use of his late wife’s name and image. The filing states the gems, jewelry and other items are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Chavarie, through his attorney’s response to the lawsuit, denies Rokeach’s allegations. His response asks that the case be dismissed and that his court costs be reimbursed by the plaintiff.

The two parties are also in a probate court case involving the assets of the late Priscilla Chavarie.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.