Nearly $1 million in ANA Museum coins stolen
- Published: Jan 15, 2012, 7 PM
Wyatt E. Yeager, a former collections manager at the American Numismatic Association’s Edward C. Rochette Money 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 21, 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.
Sentencing has been scheduled for 8 a.m. on April 24.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney David L. Hall, who has extensive experience in handling crimes involving both art and cultural property.
Hall said at the time of his surrender Yeager turned over “10 or so” coins that authorities provided to the ANA to determine whether they are also among coins missing from the ANA collection.
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 through Künker Auctions of Germany between March and October of 2008.
As of Jan. 12, Hallenbeck said 32 of the stolen coins had been recovered.
In conjunction with the release of news of Yeager’s guilty plea, ANA officials posted at the organization’s web site a listing of missing coins he has admitted to stealing.
The list of stolen items can be found at www.money.org/ana_custom/stolenCoinsPage.htm.
32 U.S. coins, patterns stolen
The list includes 32 U.S. coins and patterns. Among the rare United States items stolen are a 1795 Capped Bust gold $5 half eagle and an 1836 Gobrecht dollar pattern.
The ANA’s rare Australian 1813 “Holey dollar” of 5 shillings, Spalding 20, is among the 306 world coins stolen. It was sold at auction by Noble Numismatics Pty Ltd. in Sale 85 conducted July 24 to 27, 2007. The reported price realized was $216,690 in Australian funds ($191,082 U.S.) including the buyer’s fee.
The ANA’s “Dump” of 15 pence, Mira dies A1, was sold in the same auction for $81,550 Australian ($72,069 U.S.), including the buyer’s fee.
According to ANA officials, 289 of the stolen world coins were sold in the Künker auctions in Germany.
Hallenbeck characterized the investigation and search for the stolen coins as complex and painstakingly slow.
“From our first contact with the authorities, it took a long time. The wheels of justice sometimes are not very fast,” Hallenbeck said.
He noted that the investigation has spanned five countries.
“We know that our coins have been sold in Australia, Canada, Germany, the United States, and Ireland.”
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.
Hallenbeck said as part of the investigation the ANA performed an inventory and appraisal of the numismatic collection during 2010.
During an Oct. 26, 2010, ANA Board of Governors meeting, then Executive Director Larry Shepherd said that three ANA staff members and outside consultants had spent the past 10 months conducting a complete inventory and appraisal of the numismatic holdings of the ANA’s museum.
Shepherd told the board: “It’s a big step. For the first time we have everything cataloged and we know what it’s worth.” Shepherd reported a conservative current market value of the museum’s holdings at that time was slightly more than $37 million.
In October 2010, the ANA Board also hired 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, founded the FBI’s National Art Crime Team.
Hallenbeck said Wittman will continue to work with the ANA as it seeks to recover the stolen coins and he said that the investigation will also continue.
Hallenbeck said the ANA can identify the “vast majority” of stolen coins through photographs and descriptions of the coins when they were accessioned.
The ANA president said all of the coins stolen were “raw” (uncertified and not encapsulated in plastic holders) when stolen, although some were later certified and graded before Yeager consigned them to auction or sold them privately.
New security measures taken
Hallenbeck said the ANA has reviewed its museum practices and has already taken measures to tighten security, including the installation of cameras and changing its protocols for accessioning and deaccessioning items.
He said that Numismatic Guaranty Corp. is currently grading and encapsulating approximately 100 of the most valuable coins in the collection, and the holders will bear a special label noting that the coins are from the ANA’s museum collection.
The ANA president said the 28,000-member organization has theft insurance for its numismatic collection, “but no amount of insurance can adequately replace these coins — or the loss of trust or sense of helplessness that we all feel following such a theft.”
According to ANA officials the numismatic collection contains some 275,000 objects. ¦
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