A federal judge recently upheld a jury’s verdict that determined the relatives of a former Philadelphia jeweler who was possession of 10 rare gold coins could not keep the property since the coins would not have been able to have been legitimately owned by the deceased businessman at the time he would have had them in his collection.
In a 54-page memorandum filed late last month at the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, U.S. District Judge Legrome D. Davis denied a motion by the plaintiffs challenging the 2011 jury verdict that determined the 10, 1933 $20 gold pieces, known as “Double Eagles,” belong to the U.S. government.
The plaintiffs in the case had sued the government in an attempt to get the coins returned to the family, alleging that officials improperly seized the property.
The case dated back to 2003, when Joan Langbord, the daughter of the late Philadelphia jeweler and coin dealer Israel Switt, and her two sons, Roy and David, discovered the coins at the bottom of a family safe deposit box.
At the time of the Langbords’ discovery, the only 1933 Double Eagle known to exist was a coin once possessed by King Farouk of Egypt; the piece later sold at auction for more than $7 million.
After discovering the 10 Double Eagles, the plaintiffs took the coins to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia in an attempt to have the items authenticated.
Authorities ended up seizing the coins, claiming that they were government property.
The government contended that no 1933 Double Eagles would have been lawfully issued to the public at the time that Switt claimed to have acquired his; a vast majority of the coins were melted down and formed into gold bars following the passage of the Gold Reserve Act of 1934.
Some of the Double Eagles, however, managed to escape the Mint, and in the 1940s, U.S. Secret Service agents traced the leak to George McCann, a Philadelphia Mint cashier, and Israel Switt, the proprietor of a local antique store, according to background information on the case.
The civil trial in the Langbord case took pace last year in Philadelphia, at the conclusion of which the federal jury determined that the coins were properly seized and forfeited to the U.S. government.
The plaintiffs had argued at trial that the government has been unable to prove that the coins were indeed stolen, and that there would have been a small window of opportunity by which members of the public could have legitimately acquired the Double Eagles.
The jury, however, disagreed with that contention.
In his Aug. 29 memorandum, Judge Davis affirmed the jury verdict, writing that the “coins in question were not lawfully removed from the United States Mint and, as a matter of law, remain the property of the United States.”
“Here … the jury verdict dictates that the ’33 Double Eagles-in-suit were stolen or embezzled from the Mint,” Davis wrote. “Therefore, as the true owner of the stolen coins, the United States of America – as property owner, not prosecutor – has superior title vis-à-vis the Claimants of the ’33 Double Eagles.”
The judicial memorandum states that Secret Service agents interviewed Switt in the 1940s, at which time the coin dealer denied having any of the ’33 Double Eagles, yet Switt expressed an interest in selling one such coin decades later, during the 1970s.
“Switt specified that the sale had to take place outside of the United States, and it takes no great leap of imagination to figure out why: Switt knew the Government was seizing the coins as stolen,” Davis wrote.
In 1977, the memorandum states, Switt asked his grandson, Roy Langbord, to find out the price of a ’33 Double Eagle, after which his grandson learned that the coins were not publicly traded.
It wasn’t until years later that Langbord, his brother and mother discovered the 10 Double Eagles in the safe deposit box.
“This evidence is sufficient for a jury to find that Switt illegally concealed the disputed ’33 Double Eagles well after 1948, knowing them to be stolen from the United States Government …,” Davis wrote.