Wyatt E. Yeager, a former collections manager at the American Numismatic Association’s numismatic museum in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 12 entered a guilty plea in Federal District Court in Wilmington, Del., to the theft of more than 300 historically significant and rare coins and patterns valued at nearly $1 million.
ANA President Tom Hallenbeck said the majority of the stolen items are world coins, although some high-profile U.S. items are also among coins Yeager has admitted stealing.
Yeager, 33, of California, was the museum’s collections manager for about three months, from January through March 2007.
Charles M. Oberly III, United States Attorney for the District of Delaware, and James F. Yaccone, FBI Special Agent in Charge, Denver, said Yeager has been charged with one felony count: theft of major artwork in violation of Title 18, Section 668, of the United States Code. Yeager faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release following any term of imprisonment, restitution, forfeiture, and a $100,000 special assessment.
According to the bill of information released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Yeager embezzled $492,205 worth of rare coins and sold them in several auctions, including one in Baltimore in May 2007, one in St. Louis in June 2007, and one in Melbourne, Australia, in July 2007. In addition, in a plea arrangement Yeager admitted to embezzling an additional $492,535 worth of coins that were sold at auction in Germany.
Among some of the more rare United States items stolen by Yeager are a 1795 Capped Bust gold $5 half eagle and an 1836 Gobrecht dollar pattern.
According to Hallenbeck, ANA’s museum staff noticed items from the museum collection were missing in October 2007 and an internal investigation was launched. Shortly after, local law enforcement and FBI officials were notified in Colorado. He noted that museum staff worked with authorities during the investigation and played a critical role in helping to uncover vital evidence in the case. He said the theft was kept confidential so as not to compromise the ongoing investigation, during which Yeager relocated to Ireland.
In October 2010, the ANA retained Robert Wittman Inc., a security and recovery consulting firm that specializes in recovering stolen art and collectibles, to investigate and recover the stolen coins. Robert K. Wittman, the company’s founder and chief investigator, was the founder of the FBI’s National Art Crime Team.
As of Jan. 12, Hallenbeck said 32 of the stolen coins had been recovered.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David L. Hall, who has extensive experience in handling crimes involving both art and cultural property.
The ANA has posted a list of stolen items, which can be found at http://www.money.org/ana_custom/stolenCoinsPage.htm. ■