Numismatist and author Roger W. Burdette resigned from the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee on March 1 so he could testify as an expert witness for the Langbord family, who are seeking recovery of 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold double eagles from the U.S. government.
Burdette, like all members of the CCAC, was considered a special government employee and was subject to various conflict-of-interest laws and ethics regulations.
“CCAC members receive compensation and reimbursement for travel from the [Public Enterprise Fund], and are classified as special government employees, hence, the conflict,” according to Michael White, spokesman for the U.S. Mint Public Affairs office.
White said the special government employee status is applied to an officer or employee of the department who is retained, designated, appointed or employed to perform temporary duties, with or without compensation, for a period not to exceed 130 days during any period of 365 consecutive days, either on a full-time or intermittent basis.
“Based on longstanding guidance from the Office of Government Ethics, uncompensated advisory committee members are routinely considered to meet the definition of SGE so long as they do not serve on the Committee as representatives of organizations or industries,” White said.
According to the Code of Federal Regulations, special government employees are forbidden to serve as expert witnesses “other than on behalf of the United States” whether compensated or not. Burdette sought a waiver of the rules but the waiver was denied and Burdette resigned.
The United States Office of Government Ethics, located within the executive branch of the federal government, oversees the Code of Federal Regulations regarding ethics issues. The OGE was established in 1978 as part of the Office of Personnel Management. In 1989 the OGE became a separate agency.
Burdette was appointed to the CCAC in 2008 and his four-year term would have expired in 2012. (See related article, Page 4, on efforts to find a replacement for Burdette on the CCAC.)
The 10 coins came from members of the Langbord family, descendants of Philadelphia jeweler Israel “Izzy” Switt. The double eagles were turned over to Mint officials by Switt’s 76-year-old daughter, Joan Langbord, and her two sons, 54-year-old Roy Langbord and 51-year-old David Langbord, for authentication with their understanding that the coins would be returned if they were determined to be genuine, according to the family’s attorney. The coins were declared genuine in late summer 2005 when Mint officials publicly announced their existence and stated that the coins would not be returned to the family.
In 2006 Switt’s heirs filed suit in federal court against the Treasury Department and U.S. Mint officials seeking the return of the 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles in Mint custody.
Mint officials refuse to return the coins to Switt’s heirs because the government alleges the double eagles are stolen government property.
Joan Langbord operates the Philadelphia jewelry shop founded by her late father. Israel Switt occasionally purchased and sold rare coins in the 1930s in addition to jewelry, scrap gold and silver. The jewelry shop is in proximity to the third Philadelphia Mint, which was in operation in the 1930s.
In 1944, during an interview conducted by Secret Service agents, Switt admitted to having sold nine 1933 double eagles into the marketplace. From 1944 to the 1950s, authorities located nine examples of 1933 double eagles that could be traced to Switt, while a 10th example remained out of the U.S. government’s reach in Egypt. All nine examples confiscated by the government were eventually destroyed. Mint officials have said that the 10 pieces in current custody will not be destroyed.
In papers filed March 7, 2011, with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Langbords are seeking the immediate return of the coins and a ruling prohibiting “any future action by the United States to seize, confiscate or otherwise encumber the coins. … Alternatively, the Langbord family seeks to require the government to initiate a proper civil forfeiture action wherein the Mint’s claims challenging the Langbord family’s ownership of the coins may be fully and fairly litigated.”
In Burdette’s expert report, he states he was retained by Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP of New York, the Langbord family attorneys, as a testifying expert witness and is being compensated at the rate of $154 per hour.
According to the Langbords’ pretrial memorandum, Burdette will provide expert testimony regarding “(1) archival records from the Philadelphia Mint; (2) Mint practices; and (3) the various ways 1933 Double Eagles could have left the Philadelphia Mint.” Burdette will provide more than 70 pieces of evidence to support his testimony, according to the Langbord’s pretrial memorandum.
The 11-member CCAC advises the Treasury secretary on themes and design proposals for circulating coinage, commemorative coins, bullion coinage, congressional gold medals and other medals produced by the Mint. The CCAC also makes recommendations to the Treasury secretary on the events, persons, or places commemorated on, as well as the mintage levels for, commemorative coins.
Burdette is a lifelong numismatist and the author of the award-winning three-volume series of books titled Renaissance of American Coinage, which traces the history and development of U.S. coins struck during the early decades of the 20th century. ■