If the SS comes calling, get a receipt for Liberty Dollars

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Published : 08/31/11
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Federal law enforcement officials — the United States Attorney in Charlotte, N.C., and the U.S. Secret Service — need to clearly articulate what the government’s policy is going to be regarding possession of Liberty Dollar medallions.

Immediately after Liberty Dollar creator Bernard von NotHaus was convicted by a federal grand jury in March of multiple charges — including counterfeiting — Coin World queried the federal prosecutor’s office. Since many in the numismatic community had purchased various of the Liberty Dollar issues, both in metallic and paper forms, for their collections, we thought it important to have clarity regarding holding such items.

On April 12 the U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesperson provided in writing a statement that said “... mere possession of Liberty Dollars is not a violation,” adding: “However, if the holder of the Liberty Dollar coin attempts to put such coin into circulation, or passes and utters the coin, or attempts to use the coin in commerce, barter or trade, then they have violated the law.”

Additionally, the spokesperson said federal officials would not seek to confiscate any Liberty Dollars nor seek prosecution of any individuals who own them unless they violate the federal statutes for which von NotHaus was convicted.

Now, barely four months later, the U.S. attorney in Charlotte apparently is singing a different tune, insisting that Liberty Dollars held by collectors — even those placed in an educational exhibit — are subject to seizure since they are now deemed “contraband” by the government.

The Secret Service, the federal agency responsible for enforcing counterfeit laws and the entity that would have to conduct seizures, officially declined to comment. However, it is clear that if one walked into a Secret Service office and plunked down some Liberty Dollars on an agent’s desk he would probably feel duty bound to confiscate them.

Armen R. Vartian, writing in his “Collectibles and Law” column in Coin World (Nov. 5, 2001) noted: “Several sections [of the U.S. Code] punish possession of ‘likenesses’ of U.S. coins or currency, but only if there is intent to defraud or pass same as genuine, but none punish someone who simply owns a counterfeit coin or note with no intent to sell or use it.” However, Vartian pointed out: “Section 492 entitles the government to seize counterfeit notes and/or coins, paraphernalia, etc. wherever found within U.S. borders, and makes it a crime punishable by up to $100 fine and a year in prison to refuse a lawful request from the Treasury Department to forfeit such items. This means that while it may not be a crime in itself to possess counterfeit money, it is a crime to refuse to give them up on proper demand.”

So, if a Secret Service agent knocks on your door and demands your Liberty Dollars, turn them over — but get a receipt! ■

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