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1933 double eagle trial: At long last, a conclusion
A 10-member jury unanimously decided that the 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagles allegedly found by the Langbord family of Philadelphia in 2003 belong to the U.S. government. The verdict was rendered July 20, the 10th and final day of the Langbord trial, after about five hours of deliberation.
Members of the jury left the courtroom to begin deliberations at 10:27 a.m. and returned to read the verdict at 3:25 p.m.
The jury’s verdict was read by Juror No. 9, who served as foreman. Each member of the jury read his or her verdict and each agreed that the government had met its burden of proof.
When Judge Legrome D. Davis issued instructions to the jurors at the beginning of the day’s session, he noted that this “unusual case” was special, adding, “You’ve seen something most juries don’t see” and added that he himself had not seen in his 24 years of being a judge. Dealing with a case that provided a journey into the past with few live witnesses, Judge Davis instructed the jury on how to evaluate evidence, the elements of the forfeiture claim and information on how they were to deliberate.
He reminded the jurors that they must judge the facts, and pointed out that the word “verdict” is Latin for “speak the truth.” Judge Davis described the standard of proof — “Fair preponderance of evidence” — as “more probably true and accurate than not.” He told the jury to envision a scale and that if the scale tipped “ever so slightly” in favor of the government, then the government should win. But he also reminded the jury that the burden of proof fell on the government.
He described a forfeiture trial: here, the Langbords deny the government’s right to forfeit coins and reminded the jury that it was a civil trial, not a criminal trial.
He said that for the government to win, it had to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: First, in the past 1933 double eagles belonged to the United States government; second, that they were stolen; and third, that whoever stole them did it knowingly to deprive the government of property and to convert the property to his or her own.
After the verdict was announced, both Roy and David Langbord made a speedy exit from the courtroom. They along with their mother, Joan Switt Langbord, had turned the 10 coins over to the government in 2003 seeking a declaration of authenticity. The government confiscated the coins and the Langbords sought to regain possession and ownership through the court case. The government accused Mrs. Langbord’s father, Israel “Izzy” Switt, of having illegally obtained he coins. He died in 1990 at the age of 95.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero, the government’s lead attorney, said immediately after the verdict that the “People of the United States of America have been vindicated.” She said the outcome of the trial should send a strong message that no matter how long stolen government property remains at large, it belongs to the government.
Regarding ultimate disposition of the coins, Romero had earlier in the day sidestepped her prior statement that implied the coins should go to a museum, calling it a “rhetorical flourish.” However, she said post-trial, “I don’t believe they’ll be melted down,” and added that they would likely be displayed in some capacity.
Tom Jurkowsky, director of the U.S. Mint’s Office of Public Affairs, said after the trial: “A decision on where the coins will be stored or displayed has not been made. When that decision is made, the United States Mint will make an appropriate announcement. The pieces will remain at the United States Bullion Depository at Fort Knox until such decisions are made.”
The 10 1933 $20 gold coins were brought to Philadelphia during the trial for the jurors to inspect, but have been returned to the U.S. Mint’s bullion depository in Fort Knox, Ky., where they had been stored since 2003.
Romero described the case — which she had worked on for five years, as “the coolest case you could get as an attorney.”
When asked what she would say to collectors who undoubtedly would be disappointed that these coins will not come to market, Romero said that in the past years as she has learned about coins, she has found that “most coin collectors are outstanding people” who wouldn’t want to be collecting stolen goods.
David Enders Tripp, the government’s numismatic expert, said after the trial that he was “personally pleased” by the result, adding that it was a fitting conclusion to the decade that he has spent looking into this “wonderful story.” ■