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  1. #1
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    Default Should the government be able to recover stolen property 70 years later?

    US mint seizes woman's $8m double eagle gold coins

    Richard Luscombe in Miami
    Saturday August 27, 2005
    The Guardian

    As a coin dealer's daughter, Joan Langbord thought she knew exactly where to take her late father's collection of rare gold pieces for a valuation - the United States mint that pressed them in 1933.

    But an extraordinary legal battle is flaring up over the future of the 10 Double Eagle coins after mint officials promptly seized them and placed them in the secure vaults of Fort Knox.

    The US government claims that the coins, considered by experts to be the rarest and most valuable in the world, were stolen from the mint in Philadelphia during the depression, when the then president, Franklin D Roosevelt, decided to preserve the country's supply of gold by outlawing currency made from it.

    Until Mrs Langbord's collection came to light, only one other Double Eagle was known to be in private hands. That was sold at Sotheby's by the British coin dealer Stephen Fenton for $7.59m in 2002, with half of the proceeds going to the US treasury.
    "It's hugely exciting and there's an awful lot at stake here," said David Tripp, a coin expert and the author of the book Illegal Tender: Gold, Greed and the Mystery of the Lost 1933 Double Eagle, which tells the story of the $20 coin and a remarkable 70-year operation by the US secret service to recover the handful that were not melted down to bullion.

    "If the government prevails, the value of this one coin increases immensely. But if the family prevails, and there are another 10 of these coins on the market, their value goes from almost $8m [4.4m] to about $800,000 each overnight."

    Mr Fenton was arrested when he tried to sell his coin, once owned by King Farouk of Egypt, to undercover secret service agents at a New York hotel. The subsequent auction settled his legal dispute with American authorities.

    Mrs Langbord's father, the Philadelphia jeweller Israel Switt, was a leading suspect in the "theft" of a number of Double Eagles from the mint in 1937, when the 445,500 coins minted three years earlier were recalled and destroyed.

    Roosevelt's ruling meant that the coins were never put in circulation, adding to their value. "It was a wonderful paradox, where the coins were legally made by the US government but illegally owned the second they were pressed," Mr Tripp said.

    Switt sold nine to private collectors over the next decade, before he was persuaded that the sales were illegal and ordered to forfeit the coins still in his possession.

    David Lebryk, the acting director of the US mint, said Switt had been involved "in a variety of questionable activities" but had never been charged with a crime.

    Although the coins he sold were destroyed, Switt kept another 10 in his possession until his death in 1990, at the age of 95. Authorities were unaware of their existence until last September, when Mrs Langbord, 75, found the collection and decided to get a valuation.

    Barry Berke, Mrs Langbord's attorney, says the family just wanted the money back.

    "The mint responded to their good-faith efforts to amicably resolve any issues relating to the coins by seeking to keep them," he told the New York Times. "The Langbord family fully expects that their coins will be returned to them so they can be freely traded like any other numismatic treasure with a colourful history."

    Mr Lebryk said the US mint would defend the lawsuit vigorously. "There's a principle at stake that we shouldn't be encouraging people to traffic in stolen property, and that no-one or their heirs should be able to benefit from that," he said. "These coins are important national historic artefacts and they should be on public display."

  2. #2
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    What does everyone think about this? Am I silly to feel sorry for this woman? Should it matter how long the stolen property has been gone or how far removed it is from the rightful owner? I guess I'm inclined to think that what the government is going is fair, but I do feel a little sorry for the woman.

  3. #3
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    Geez, isn't there a statute of limitations (or whatever) on this sort of thing?? I feel for her, too.

  4. #4
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    I feel bad for her too, but I do think the property should be reclaimed. Whomever sold it to whomever sold it to whomever sold it (etc) didn't have the right to do so. It's not her "fault", and I'd hate to see anyone arrested and punished for theft when clearly they didn't steal the object, but it still isn't rightfully hers.
    "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much." ~ Jackie O.
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  5. #5
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    It isn't rightfully hers. I would have more sympathy for her if her father bought it from a dealer and had absolutely no hand in the theft (even then, though, I'd still say it belongs to someone else), but it was suspected that he actually was a part of it. She had no real part in it, but she shouldn't profit from the crimes of her father.
    May those who love us love us. And for those who don't, may God turn their hearts. And if not, may God turn their ankles so we'll know them by their limping.

  6. #6
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    While I feel badly for the woman, she is staking claim to property that never belonged to anyone but the US government (being that they were illegal to own as soon as they were printed). First and final ownership belongs to the government, someone cannot own stolen property. This may have been a little bit different if the government had authorized the sale of any of the coins at some point though (ie. her father bought the coin and then kept it during a mandatory recall of the currency).
    US 07.17.04 DS 02.14.06 DS 02.22.08

  7. #7
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    ITA with kam.

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