Government seeks 1933 gold double eagle rehearing involving coins from 'the family of a thief'

Files brief in case involving ownership claims to 10 1933 gold double eagles
By , Coin World
Published : 07/09/15
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The government contends that it should not be prevented from recovering coins from “the family of a thief” in its latest filing, continuing the ongoing saga of the 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagles that turned up in a Philadelphia family’s safe deposit box in 2003. 

Attorneys for the government filed a brief in federal court on July 1, requesting a rehearing of the April 17 decision of a three-judge panel in the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit who reversed a July 21, 2011, jury verdict and subsequent order from the District Court that held that the coins were government property. 

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Writing, “The family of a thief now stands to benefit in the millions of dollars on the basis of property that belongs to the people of the United States,” the government requests that “title to the stolen pieces be confirmed in their rightful owner, the people of the United States.”

The Langbord family, who found the coins, are descendants of a Philadelphia coin dealer investigated by the Secret Service in the 1940s for selling additional 1933 double eagles into the marketplace.

In its conclusion, the government’s brief states, “The Langbords suffered no harm at all, having received exactly the procedural protection they sought — a judicial proceeding in which the government bore the burden of proof.” It warns that by ignoring the jury’s unanimous decision that the coins were stolen from the U.S. Mint, “the Langbords stand poised for a staggering windfall based on their ancestor’s crime, at great harm to the United States.”

Miscarriage of justice

In the most recent filing the government uses much stronger language than previously seen, unhesitatingly labeling Philadelphia coin dealer Israel Switt a thief and stating the Court of Appeals’ April 17 ruling produces “a miscarriage of justice in this particular case,” adding that it also significantly misreads civil forfeiture statutes in a manner that does substantial harm to the ability of the United States to protect its own property and to pursue forfeiture under applicable law.” The government states that the Appeals Court’s decision to vacate the jury’s verdict and subsequent judicial order is inconsistent with laws that protect the property interests of the government and the operation of forfeiture laws. 

The brief opens with some historical background on the 1933 double eagles, of which 445,500 were struck but nearly all were melted upon President Franklin Roosevelt’s order to stop issuing gold coins. Beyond the two examples in the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution and one that was monetized and sold for a record $7,590,020 at public auction in 2002, other examples of this rarity survived and remain at large. The government states that these at large examples “were stolen from the Mint by its cashier, George McCann, abetted by Israel Switt, a Philadelphia merchant and coin dealer, who over time sold some at a significant premium while hoarding the rest.” 

The government adds, “Shortly after the 2002 sale of that one coin, Joan Langbord, the daughter of the late thief Israel Switt, announced that she discovered 10 more 1933 Double Eagles in her safe deposit box, and she wanted the same deal that the collector had just enjoyed.” 

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