A former museum collections manager of the American Numismatic
Association has been sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and two
years supervised release and was ordered to pay $948,505 to the ANA in
restitution related to his 2007 theft of more than 300 coins from the
ANA’s Edward C. Rochette Money Museum.
Wyatt E. Yeager was sentenced by Judge Leonard P. Stark in the
U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del., on April 24.
Yeager surrendered to U.S. law enforcement on Jan. 11, and the
next day he entered a guilty plea related to the theft of 338 coins
valued at nearly $1 million in coins from the ANA’s museum in Colorado
Springs, Colo. Yeager worked at the ANA from Jan. 3, 2007, to March
21, 2007, and he sold the stolen coins through auctions in the United
States, Australia and Germany in the months following the thefts.
Yeager submitted a plea agreement on Jan. 12 where he pleaded
guilty to one felony count of theft of major artwork in violation of
Title 18, Section 669, of the United States Code, which applies to a
person who “steals or obtains by fraud from the care, custody, or
control of a museum any object of cultural heritage. ...” The elements
of the theft are that Yeager knowingly and willfully stole or obtained
by fraud from the care of a museum an object of cultural heritage. The
crime carries maximum penalties of not more than 10 years
imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, three years supervised release,
forfeiture, restitution and a $100 special assessment.
Prior to the sentencing, Yeager submitted a sentencing memorandum
advocating for a reduced sentence while the government filed a
response with reasons supporting a sentence that would reflect the
seriousness of the offense.
Yeager: ‘A different reality’
Federal sentencing guidelines suggested a range of 70 to 87 months
imprisonment, but Yeager’s defense contended that the suggested
sentence would be unduly harsh. In his sentencing memorandum that
argued for a downward variance — or a reduced sentence — Yeager
stated: “My love of coins and metal conservation led me to employment
at the American Numismatic [Association] Museum. I absolutely loved my
job. Everyday was a fascinating discovery of history and beauty
through metal.” The sentencing memorandum adds, “Tragically, in two
short months Wyatt threw away everything he had worked for years to
achieve, losing his job, destroying his career and professional
aspirations and jeopardizing his liberty.”
In explaining why he stole from the ANA, he wrote: “When people
ask me ‘What were you thinking,’ I can’t honestly answer them. To this
day I can’t even explain it to my wife. … When I committed the crime I
can only relate it to a feeling of sleepwalking in a different reality.”
He said his first impetus was to use the proceeds from the stolen
coins to support his grandparents and help pay off their mortgage.
Yeager’s sentencing memorandum further stated that his
“demonstrations of contrition and acceptance of responsibility go far
beyond verbal expressions.” It cited that while living in Ireland
after he left the ANA, Yeager learned that the government was pursuing
criminal charges against him and he cooperated with law enforcement,
agreeing to return to the United States without extradition and
returned 38 coins to the government (of which the ANA determined that
32 belonged to its museum). Yeager further claimed “exceptional family
dependence” since he has been a stay-at-home-dad for the past three years.
The memorandum further addresses “other collateral consequences”
and states that, while “his reputation is irretrievably tarnished, and
he has lost the respect of many friends and colleagues,” he has “the
prospect of a new career in the manufacture and sale of mining equipment.”
Among writers of the letters filed in support of leniency for
Yeager was his wife, Jennifer Yeager, who wrote that a reduced
sentence “would mean that Wyatt could return to work on building a new
career so that we can start to repay his debt and rebuild our lives.”
In the government’s response to Yeager’s sentencing memo, filed on
April 16 and signed by David L. Hall, assistant U.S. attorney, it
wrote that the sentencing guidelines-based recommendation was
appropriate because the theft of cultural property is more serious
than the theft of other forms of property.
The government response stated that in stealing the coins from the
ANA, Yeager “also deprived the public of a cultural resource; the
coins were no longer available for the public to enjoy and for experts
to study. For the most part, this remains the case: the coins are
scattered all over the world in the hands of private collectors.”
The government sought enhancements to the sentencing guidelines as
Yeager stole objects of cultural heritage from the museum. To support
this, the government wrote: “Yeager is an embezzler. Not all
embezzlers are equal. The embezzlement of rare coins from a museum is
not the same as the embezzlement of cash from a grocer’s till.
Cultural property represents the history of mankind.”
Citing evidence of the historic importance of stolen coins
including the Australian “Holey Dollar,” which sold at a 2007
Australian auction (that Yeager attended) for $155,775, the government
concluded: “These coins deserved special care. Their theft deserves
The government also recognized the current logistical challenge
now presented by the theft, arguing that by selling the coins at
auction, Yeager intended to maximize the return on his crime and as a
result, these coins are in private hands all over the world.
The government added that the recovery effort for the missing
coins “is likely to go on for years, and is unlikely to result in one
hundred percent success.”
While ANA general counsel Ronald Sirna said Jan. 19 that he was
hopeful the ANA would receive the coins “within a few days,” as of
April 24, no coins stolen by Yeager have been returned to the ANA.
According to RyAnne Scott, the ANA’s library and communications
director, the FBI has recovered 32 of the ANA’s coins, which will be
turned over to the ANA at a later date (not yet set). The identities
of the additional six coins that Yeager gave the FBI that were not the
property of the ANA will be released when the coins are turned over to
the ANA by the FBI; those six coins will count as part of his
restitution, according to Scott.
The ANA is working with Robert Wittman Inc., a consulting firm
that specializes in recovering stolen art and collectibles to
investigate and recover the stolen coins. Wittman said that his firm
is actively investigating the case but that “because of the sheer
immensity of the numbers, we can’t go after every coin.” When Coin
World asked about what, if any, steps have been taken to notify
the buyers at auction of stolen coins consigned by Yeager, Wittman
replied, “The ANA is not responsible for alerting people if they
purchased a stolen coin; it is the responsibility of the possessor to
figure out if the coin is stolen,” adding, “the ANA is the victim here.”
Since the stolen coins have been defined as cultural property and
were stolen from a museum, they are the property of the ANA. According
to the theft of major art statute, a person would be subject to
criminal charges only if he or she knew that the object of cultural
heritage was stolen from the museum.
When asked what he would recommend to collectors who are concerned
that they may have purchased a stolen coin, Wittman reminded people to
view the list of stolen coins on the ANA website at www.money.org/ana_custom/MissingCoinsList.aspx.
He recommended that if people suspect that they have in their
possession a coin stolen from the ANA museum, they should call him at 610-361-8929.
Yeager is not required to start paying his restitution until his
prison term is over, according to Scott, and the ANA had not yet
received the $200,000 that Yeager had paid toward restitution. Scott
stated, “The money will likely go in the same museum fund as the
The ANA received $750,000 in a negotiated settlement from its
insurance carrier in August 2009 for the losses incurred resulting
from the theft of coins in early 2007.
According to Scott, the insurance payment was placed in a
dedicated museum fund. Although some settlement funds may be used for
recovery costs, no funds have been distributed at this point, she said.
Funds used to upgrade the security system came from the ANA
general fund. While Scott noted that although details of ANA’s
internal security procedures and system information are confidential,
the ANA has reinstated an on-duty security guard at its Money Museum.
In an April 24 ANA press release, ANA President Tom Hallenbeck
said: “The harm caused by this theft transcends monetary loss — it was
a terrible loss for the association and for collectors everywhere. The
ANA’s collection provides a window into the history of society,
culture and economics from the ancient world to the present day.
Because of Mr. Yeager’s actions, significant cultural items will not
be available to museum visitors, researchers and other interested