Third Circuit Affirms United States’ Forfeiture and Ownership of Double Eagle Coins
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Zane David Memeger announced that the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, sitting en banc, issued a ruling on Monday, August 1, 2016, concluding that the United States had a right to keep ten 1933 $20 gold coins that have been the subject of years of litigation. In 2011, a jury had determined that the coins were forfeited to the United States as stolen property from the United States Mint, and District Court Judge Legrome D. Davis additionally declared that the coins had always been the property of the United States. In 2015, a panel of the Court of Appeals vacated that decision, holding that government employees had violated a deadline for administrative action to obtain adjudication of the coins’ ownership. Today’s decision asserts that the government did not violate any deadline, and reinstates the decisions of the jury and the district court validating the government’s title to its property.
The 1933 coins, known as Double Eagles, are twenty dollar gold pieces that were manufactured by the United States Mint in 1933. The coins were never released to the general public, however, because President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Orders taking the United States off the gold standard, prohibiting the Mint from releasing any gold, and requiring all persons to redeem their gold coins for paper currency or non-gold coin. Nevertheless, a number of 1933 Double Eagles gold pieces have surfaced over the ensuing decades.
The Court of Appeals noted in its opinion that the United States Secret Service has investigated this matter since the government first became aware of a 1933 Double Eagle being put up for public auction in 1944. The United States has recovered every 1933 Double Eagle that it was able to locate, including one coin that the government had inadvertently permitted to be exported to King Farouk in Egypt in 1944. That coin was brought back to the United States by a London coin dealer in 1996. It was eventually sold at auction for $7.6 million, with the government and the coin dealer splitting the proceeds.
The Court also noted that the Secret Service investigation determined that all of the recovered pieces were traced back through the Secret Service investigation to Israel Switt, a Philadelphia merchant. After the sale of the Farouk coin, Mr. Switt’s daughter, Joan Langbord, reported finding ten of the coins in a safe deposit box that had previously belonged to her mother.
In its decision, the en banc Court of Appeals affirmed that the ten coins are property of the United States, finding that “the evidence at trial demonstrated overwhelmingly that no 1933 Double Eagle ever left the Mint through authorized channels and any that did were either stolen or embezzled.” The Court noted that the Mint’s records were remarkably detailed, to the level of showing a transaction involving three pennies and their year of minting.
Zane David Memeger, the United States Attorney, stated: “We are gratified for the Third Circuit’s decision recognizing the United States’ ownership of these rare coins.” Rhett Jeppson, Principal Deputy Director for the United States Mint, stated: “We appreciate the Court’s decision confirming that these national treasures are and always have been property of the United States Mint. Today’s decision is a victory not only for the integrity of government property and the rule of law, but for the integrity of the numismatic hobby.”
The case was investigated by U.S. Secret Service, with the assistance of the U.S. Mint Police, and presented by Assistant United States Attorneys Jacqueline Romero, Nancy Rue, and Joel Sweet. The appeal was argued by Assistant United States Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer.
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