Son of Former U.S. Mint Employee Returns “1974-D Aluminum Penny” to Mint
Assistant U. S. Attorneys Joseph Price (619) 546-7642 and Joseph Purcell (619) 546-7643
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – March 17, 2016
SAN DIEGO – The son of a late United States Mint official has returned a rare and valuable 1974-D aluminum one-cent piece to the United States Mint, bringing an end to a lawsuit over the ownership of the piece.
Randall Lawrence, the son of the late Mint official Harry Lawrence, and Michael McConnell, the owner of the La Jolla Coin Shop, had brought a lawsuit against the United States to establish ownership rights of the penny.
Harry Lawrence had been a Deputy Director of the United States Mint at Denver until his retirement in 1980. He died later that year. In 2014, Harry Lawrence’s son, Randall Lawrence, gave multiple news interviews during which he claimed that among the property he inherited from his father was what appeared to be a 1974 aluminum penny bearing a “D” (for Denver) mintmark. Mr. Lawrence, who had recently moved from Colorado to San Diego, had met with Michael McConnell, the owner of the La Jolla Coin Shop, and they reached an agreement to exhibit the piece at coin shows and to offer it for public sale through a well-known auction house. Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell claimed that there were estimates that the piece might fetch upwards of $2 million at auction.
Upon learning that the piece existed and that Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell planned to sell it, the United States Mint contacted Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell to demand its return. Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell responded to the United States’ demand that the piece be returned by filing a lawsuit against the United Sates in United States District Court for the Southern District of California seeking a judicial declaration that they were the owners of the piece. The United States contended in litigation that it be declared the rightful owner of the piece because there was never any authorization for an aluminum one-cent piece to be struck at the Denver Mint, that the piece was clandestinely struck and unlawfully removed from the Denver Mint, that federal employees are not permitted to remove federal property without proper authorization, and that the piece always has been and remained federal property.
Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell have now returned the 1974-D aluminum one-cent piece to the United States. By the terms of an agreement to end the litigation that they brought against the United States, Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell have voluntarily relinquished all claims of ownership, legal title, or dominion over the 1974-D aluminum one-cent piece to the United States. The piece was transferred to the custody and control of the United States Mint for its use and display as it may determine.
“This result ends the litigation successfully and returns the subject piece to its rightful owner, the United States Mint. It also vindicates the Government’s position that items made at United States Mint facilities but not lawfully issued, or otherwise lawfully disposed of, remain Government property and are not souvenirs that government employees can merely remove and pass down to their heirs,” said U.S. Attorney Duffy.
“The Mint is very pleased with the agreement, and we are very grateful to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego for its work and efforts in reaching this resolution. We look forward to displaying the coin appropriately as an important Mint heritage asset,” said Rhett Jeppson, United States Mint Principal Deputy Director. “This agreement is not only good for the integrity of the coin collecting hobby but for the integrity of the government property and rule of law.”
The case was handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph P. Price, Jr. and Joseph J. Purcell. Randall Lawrence and Michael McConnell v. United States Department of the Treasury; United States Bureau of the Mint; and the United States of America, District Court Case No. 14-cv-00594-WQH (MDD).