Weiss enters guilty plea on confiscated coins

Officials also rule that 'rare ancients' are counterfeit
Published : 07/10/12
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Coins that New York and federal officials believed were imported illegally turned out also to be bogus.

Dr. Arnold-Peter C. Weiss, the collector who was arrested and had coins seized Jan. 3 in New York City, on July 3 entered a guilty plea to three charges of attempted criminal possession of stolen property in the fourth degree, in the criminal court of the city of New York.

The charges against Weiss, of Barrington, R.I., are misdemeanors. He faces sentencing Sept. 17. An earlier felony charge has been dropped, according to information provided by the office of District Attorney of New York County (Manhattan) Cyrus R. Vance Jr., and the plea agreement limits the charges that he can face to those three counts.

Officials with the district attorney’s office, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — Homeland Security Investigation, arrested Weiss Jan. 3 and detained three coins, not two as initially reported, during lot viewing at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. Two of the coins, including one coin that was expected to establish a new price record for an ancient Greek coin, were slated to appear the next day in the 19-lot auction of “Selections of Cabinet W” by Classical Numismatic Group and Nomos AG (Weiss is a partner in Nomos AG).

All three of the detained “coins” were believed to be from Sicily. Of the two pieces removed from the Cabinet W auction, one was identified as a circa 405 to 403/2 B.C. silver tetradrachm of Katane in Sicily, and the other, the star of the sale, was billed as a circa 409 to 406 B.C. silver decadrachm of Akragas, one of 12 reportedly known.

According to the criminal complaint, Weiss is alleged to have told an undercover informant that the coin from Katane (Lot 1009 in the auction) was “freshly dug” from the ground. Therefore, according to the complaint, “it had to be the property of the Italian government” under Italy’s Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage, which addresses ownership of all antiquities found in Italy after 1909.

According to the complaint, Weiss purchased the silver tetradrachm for $250,000 and Weiss expected it to sell for $350,000 (it had an opening bid of $300,000).

Weiss allegedly was recorded discussing the coin from Katane, saying: “There’s no paperwork, I know this is a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago. … This was dug up two years ago. I know where this came from.”

According to the lot listing in the Cabinet W catalog, the Katane tetradrachm was purchased privately in 2010. Weiss, according to information provided by the District Attorney’s office, admitted that he was not provided with paperwork about the coin’s provenance and that, based on its appearance and the person who sold it to him, he believed it to be “freshly dug,” or recently found.

The silver decadrachm of Akragas — the highlight of the 19-coin auction — had an opening bid of $2.5 million. The silver decadrachm has a reported provenance dating to the 1960s, according to the auction catalog. When the coin was purchased in 2010, Weiss believed the coin to be worth $1.2 million, according to information provided by the district attorney’s office.

Weiss told the court that the coin was purchased in February 2010 from a prominent American auction house, according to information provided by the district attorney’s office, and that there are sales records dating back to the 1960s; he said he did not know the coin’s provenance before the 1960s.

The other coin, previously unreported, in the case was another silver decadrachm of Akragas that Weiss reportedly had with him at the time of seizure. Weiss believed that coin was valued at $1.25 million, according to information provided by the district attorney’s office. Weiss told the court that he was informed the coin had been sold in 1969, but he did not know its provenance prior to that.

Since their seizure, all three of the coins have been determined by “third-party experts” to be forgeries, according to information provided by the district attorney’s office. The office would not identify who determined the coins to be fake, and what tests (if any) were undertaken in making that judgement.

ICE spokesman Lou Martinez, from the New York City branch office, confirmed to Coin World July 5 that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement — Homeland Security Investigation agents were involved in the detainment of Weiss and seizure of the coins, as part of an investigation through the agency’s El Dorado Task Force, which deals with financial crimes in the New York/New Jersey area. Martinez said a determination of the district attorney’s office resulted in the case proceeding through state court rather than federal court.

Dr. Weiss is a world-renowned hand surgeon and a professor of orthopedics at Brown University School of Medicine and Rhode Island Hospital, both in Providence, R.I.

As part of his plea agreement, Weiss will perform 70 hours of community service for under-insured patients in Rhode Island. He will also pay a $3,000 fine ($1,000 per coin, the maximum allowable under law).

In addition, Weiss is committed to authoring an article for publication in the American Numismatic Society’s ANS Magazine (or a similar publication) “detailing the prevalent practice of collecting unprovenanced coins, the continuing threat of this practice to the archaeological record, and what changes must be made to stop this practice and promote responsible collecting,” according to information provided by the district attorney’s office. If the ANS declines to publish the article, Weiss must find another venue for its publication, in concert with the district attorney’s office. (Weiss is a past member of the American Numismatic Society Board of Trustees.)

Weiss also forfeited 20 additional coins seized from him at the time of the arrest and waived a right to appeal. The district attorney’s office declined to provide a list of the other 20 coins Weiss had at the time of his arrest. ■

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