Family wins back seized gold coins that could fetch millions

April 19, 2015 Posted by admin

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A U.S. appeals court Friday overturned a jury verdict and awarded a Philadelphia family the rights to 10 rare gold coins that could fetch $80 million.

U.S. Treasury officials insist the $20 Saint-Gaudens “Double Eagles” were stolen from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia before the 1933 series was melted down when the country went off the gold standard. They argue that Joan Langbord and her sons cannot lawfully own the coins she said she found in a family bank deposit box in 2003.

Her father, jeweler Israel Switt, had dealings with the Mint in the 1930s and was twice investigated over his coin holdings. A jury in 2012 sided with the government.

However, the appeals court Friday returned the coins to the Langbords because U.S. officials had not responded within the 90-day limit to the family’s seized property claim, filed in about 2004.

“Congress clearly intended for there to be limits on the government’s ability to seek forfeiture of citizens’ property, and today’s ruling reaffirms that those limits are real and won’t be excused when the government violates them,” family lawyer Barry Berke said.

Joan Langbord, 85, worked in her father’s store on Jeweler’s Row for most of her life. Her sons, entertainment lawyer Roy Langbord of New York City and David Langbord of Virginia Beach, Virginia, joined her in the 13-year legal fight. They do not plan to comment on the ruling and have not decided whether the coins will be sold, Berke said.

Famed sculptor August Saint-Gaudens designed the Double Eagle with a flying eagle on side and a figure representing liberty on the other.

A single surviving coin sold in 2002 for $7.59 million, then a record for a coin. That coin had once been owned by King Farouk of Egypt. Its later owner — a London coin dealer once jailed by the U.S. over the coin — split the proceeds with the U.S. in a deal brokered by Berke.

The Langbords offered the government a similar split, but were rebuffed. The family had taken the coins to the Secret Service in Philadelphia to have them examined.

“They authenticated the coins and said, ‘Thank you very much, we will now be keeping them,'” Berke said.

The Mint struck nearly a half million of the Double Eagles in Philadelphia in 1933, but never released them. They were melted into gold bars after President Franklin D. Roosevelt abandoned the gold standard.

While prosecutors argued to jurors in 2011 that Switt must have stolen the coins with help from a Mint insider, Berke said he theoretically could have traded his scrap gold for them.

A Treasury spokeswoman said the agency did not have an immediate comment on Friday’s 2-1 opinion, which was written by Senior Judge Marjorie O. Rendell. The Justice Department did not return a message seeking comment on the case.

Switt admitted to the Secret Service in 1944 that he had come to possess, and sell, a different set of nine Double Eagles. The coins were recovered and destroyed. The surviving Farouk coin is believed to have been a 10th coin from that batch.

The Mint sent a pair of 1933 double eagles to the Smithsonian Institution for its U.S. coin collection.

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