This 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is one of 10 whose ownership is being decided in a federal jury trial in Philadelphia.
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1933 double eagle trial: Tripp’s testimony ends
Two key events occurred Thursday, the sixth day of the Langbord trial: The end of the testimony of the government’s coin expert David Enders Tripp, and the presentation of the 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle coins to the jury.
Judge Legrome D. Davis described Tripp’s five days of testimony as the longest he has ever experienced as either witness or lawyer testifying in his courtroom, “by a factor of two.”
The judge was also effusive in his praise for the jury, which has maintained attentiveness throughout, taking notes and generally looking interested.
Continued questioning by Berke
July 14’s session began with the third day of Tripp’s cross examination by Barry Berke, the Langbord family’s attorney who is representing them in the trial to resolve who owns 10 1933 double eagles that the Langbords allegedly found in a family safe deposit box in 2003.
Berke hit upon numerous points, again reviewing the various ways 1933 double eagles could have left the Mint and the role of the 1934 Assay Commission in handling 1933 double eagles.
The Secret Service investigations of 1937 and 1944 were referenced, as was the absence of signatures on several statements by Israel Switt. In an effort to show the unreliability of some documents, Berke pointed out the misspelling of the coin dealer Abe Kosoff’s last name as Kasoff, to which Tripp replied, “I’ve had my name written down as Dripp.”
Regarding the 1944 investigation, the statute of limitations that prevented the government from prosecuting individuals related to the alleged theft of the 1933 double eagles in the 1930s was discussed. The jury was again reminded of the 34 coins that were in a bag at the cashier’s window during the “window of opportunity” when 1933 double eagles may have left the Mint.
Tripp’s employment again became the subject of questioning, with Tripp stating that Sotheby’s — his former employer — has been one of his clients. Berke brought up an August 2005 statement in which Tripp said that if the Langbords prevail and there are 10 more 1933 double eagles, that the value of each would go down because of supply and demand. As such, in 2005 Tripp opined the “Farouk” 1933 double eagle that was sold at a Sotheby’s/Stack’s auction in 2002 for $7,590,020 would be worth just $800,000 were 10 additional examples to flood the market.
Tripp said that the prices have changed since 2005, but Berke suggested that Tripp’s research to support the position that no 1933 double eagles left the Mint legally was to protect the anonymous buyer of the “Farouk” 1933 double eagle.
After Berke concluded his cross examination, Judge Davis said that he couldn’t even gauge how much longer the trial would take, asking, “How many witnesses have we completed?” The answer: zero.
The coins’ star appearance
Upon the jury’s return from lunch, the courtroom was different; filled with new people and with greater security. Those observing the trial were required to sit in three rows in the rear of the room, Judge Davis announced that both sides agreed to a stipulation — that the coins in front of the jury were the 10 1933 double eagles at issue in this case.
While the coins were not visible to anyone but the jury and the people responsible for escorting the coins, they were displayed in a box with a clear slanted cover, and appeared to be in white holders. The jury was allowed to walk by the coins, single file, and look at them through the case.
Judge Davis told the jurors, “You’ve been here for a long time and you might as well know why you’re here.” At the completion of the viewing, Judge Davis asked, “May the gentleman take the coins back to Fort Knox?” and the coins were removed from the room.
The government’s swift response
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero — who is a former senior counsel at the United States Mint — led the government re-examination, addressing points brought up by Berke in his cross examination. Her questioning was swift, direct and was completed in little more than an hour. She countered the points brought up over the last three days by Berke.
Romero asked Tripp why he researched thousands of documents for thousands of hours regarding the 1933 double eagle, to which Tripp replied, “Because I was interested.” After completing the 2002 Sotheby’s/Stack’s catalog, Tripp took more than a year off to write his book, Illegal Tender. Romero asked if Tripp had preconceived notions when he wrote the book, and Tripp replied no, while admitting that a “smoking gun” would have made the book more interesting to some.
Tripp’s approach to research, utilizing the totality of the documents was stressed, and the next line of questioning proved to be one of the more interesting moments in the whole trial.
A controversial question
Romero asked Tripp if he was approached by any other party about being a witness.
Berke quickly objected and a sidebar conference at the judge’s bench followed. After several minutes, the jury was excused and it was revealed that after the announcement that the 10 Langbord coins were found, Tripp was contacted by both the government and Berke. Berke had left Tripp a voice mail message saying that he might be contacted in the future. While Berke said it could have been about many things as they had previously worked together on Illegal Tender, Tripp understood that it was likely about being an expert in the litigation.
While Berke’s call to Tripp spoke directly to Berke’s assault on Tripp’s professional competence over the prior three days in the cross examination, Judge Davis decided to not allow the question, and the jury returned to the room.
Romero clarified points now well-known to the jury including the March 7, 1933, telegram, the Secret Service investigations of 1937 and 1944, the absence of documents that showed the cashier had authority to issue 1933 double eagles and other points related to Mint records. Tripp replied that the 1933 records were surprisingly comprehensive, so much so that he had “never seen such a comprehensive archive on any specific issue.”
A brief examination of Tripp by Berke followed, and the court was adjourned at 3:35 p.m., with Judge Davis reassuring the jury that Tripp — the first witness — would be by far the longest witness of the case.
Romero said that she anticipated that the next witness would take three to four hours and that the government would finish its case on Monday, July 18. The government has retained two more expert witnesses — Wayne Geisser, who will provide forensic accounting evidence, and Eric Rauchway, who will testify on the events leading up to the gold crisis of 1933 and historical research methodology. ■
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