US Coins

1933 double eagle trial: Late dealer Harry Forman

Day seven of the Langbord 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle trial started with a snooze as an accountant testified on behalf of the government, but ended with a bang as the depositions of Joan Switt Langbord and deceased Philadelphia coin dealer Harry Forman were read to the jury.


Mrs. Langbord is matriarch of the family that found the 10 1933 double eagles in a safe deposit box in 2003. The trial is seeking to resolve whether the rightful owner is the Langbord family or the government.


Prior to the government’s forensic accounting expert Wayne D. Geisser’s testimony, Judge Legrome D. Davis advised attorneys for the government and the Langbords to “keep it interesting, keep it short” on July 15. 


Like coins to cattle


Geisser – hired by the government to help prove that no 1933 double eagles left the Mint through legitimate channels – was sworn in as an expert witness. He stated that his role as a forensic accountant was to assemble facts and numbers, and to draw conclusions from them, adding that while the absence of live witnesses in this case is unusual, that the financial records of 1933 to 1934 are adequate. He related an experience in which he had to evaluate a cattle breeding facility to show his adaptability of his methods to new situations, and noted that he had not worked with the number of “ancient” documents involved in the case nor Mint records previously.  


From the 15 boxes of records he was provided, Geisser focused on the cashier’s settlements and daily statements – books of original entry – to create a reconstruction of government expert witness David Enders Tripp’s research. When hired by the government, Geisser was asked to determine if Tripp was correct in his analysis. Geisser found that:


-- Tripp’s 2008 expert report was complete and accurate.

-- 1933 to 1934 Mint cashier records are reliable.

-- One can track all 1933 double eagles in Mint records and they are accounted for.

-- There is no evidence of  “leakage” or unauthorized release of 1933 double eagles.  


When asked if the Mint’s records of the period are less reliable because they are handwritten, Geisser pointed out that the workers took pride in the bookkeeping process and noted in this pre-Wite-Out era, very few entries correct mistakes. 


Geisser described his process as transferring information from the Mint’s ledgers to Excel spreadsheets, before concluding that all 445,500 of the 1933 double eagles produced are fully accounted for in the coining department, cashier and vault records.  


Eric A. Tirschwell, an attorney for the Langbords, performed the cross-examination, focusing on the documents considered and looking into Geisser’s contacts with Tripp to show the interconnections between the two expert’s reports.  


Geisser revealed that he was being paid $295 an hour for his work on behalf of the government, and that he had collected $100,000 as of February, with an additional $25,000 that had been billed but not collected for his work in preparation for the Langbord trial. Tirschwell also pointed out that Geisser, who had been sitting in the trial room for the past week, also was billing for that time spent waiting and observing.  


Much of the questioning dealt with the facts underlying his analysis, with Geisser holding adamant that some perceived inconsistencies make no difference in his opinion.  The government declined the opportunity to redirect and Geisser was dismissed.


The jury gets handed a safe deposit box


The government then introduced Donald Daly, a former Philadelphia police officer and a keeper of records for Wachovia Bank. He testified to the process to open a safe deposit box and to visit it, and entry cards.  The 10 1933 double eagles that are the subject of the litigation allegedly were found 2003, in Box 442 at the bank at 601 Chestnut St. in Philadelphia.  Daly produced the entry cards to show each time Mrs. Langbord visited the box.


A sample safe deposit box similar to Box 442 was shown to the jury; garnet colored with gold trim, approximately the size of a small carry-on piece of luggage.  Judge Davis advised the jury to “see it, touch it, feel it, hold it” and with that, Daly was dismissed.


The safe deposit box would again come up with the government’s next witness, Joan Langbord, who attended the trial on July 12, but on this day would testify via a deposition that she had given earlier. A Secret Service agent read the testimony of Mrs. Langbord, who was 77 at the time of the April 17, 2007, deposition. She spoke of working at her father’s (Israel Switt) store from the age of 9 and that she did not know much about how the contents got into the safe deposit box.


When asked what her motivation was for going into the box in 2003, and if she knew what she was looking for, Joan Langbord replied in her deposition that she was looking for jewelry. Her mother “a big lady at one time who liked big jewelry,” had some large pieces in there that Mrs. Langbord, a petite woman, knew she would never wear and was planning on selling.  


When asked why she visited the box between eight to 12 times over a period of years, as verified by the records that Daily introduced earlier in the afternoon, Mrs. Langbord replied in the deposition that she went for sentimental reasons to be reminded of her mother. She added that she was never accompanied by someone from Pennsylvania’s Department of Revenue.  


A Philadelphia coin dealer testifies about Switt


Harry J. Forman, a prominent Philadelphia coin dealer, was heard next via a deposition. Forman, who died in March 2008, gave his deposition March 30, 2007, and the attorneys agreed to read selected portions to the jury.  


Forman was asked if he knew Israel “Izzy” Switt, and Forman replied that Switt was a personal friend, adding that he was always fascinated by Switt’s store, but that “he [Switt] never really wanted to sell anything.” To this point, Forman recalled a story of an 1877 Indian Head gold $3 piece for which Forman paid Switt $700, in contrast to the then-current Guide Book of United States Coins (the “Red Book”) value of $600. When Switt saw the value had moved to $1,000 the following year, Switt sold Forman fewer coins going forward.


Perhaps most interesting was a conversation, that Forman recalled, in which Switt asked him if he had a customer for 1933 double eagles who lived out of the country. According to Forman, Switt said he “knew where he could find one.”  


Forman checked this out with his mentor, coin dealer John J. Ford Jr., who told Forman: “You don’t want to be bothered with it. The coin is subject to seizure. Stay away from it.”  Forman said later Switt told him about the origin of his 1933 double eagles, stating, “I got them legitimately from the Federal Reserve,” trading 1931 double eagles for the 1933-dated examples.  


Forman recalled that he believed that this “wasn’t kosher” as the coin was subject to seizure, adding, “I’d imagine that some money changed hands,” with regards to Switt’s alleged exchange of 1931 for 1933 double eagles.  Forman remembered that Switt couldn’t understand what the trouble was all about regarding the 1933 double eagles, and Forman recalled that he only shared the story with Ford.  


With that tantalizing deposition from a hobby legend about his dealings with Izzy, Judge Davis adjourned the court, stating that the government intends to rest its case Monday, July 18. 

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