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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 31, August 2, 2009, Article 12

JUDGE ISSUES RULING ON CONFISCATED 1933 DOUBLE EAGLES

This story was all over the wire services on Saturday, but for those who may not have seen it yet, here are some excerpts. The family of Izzy Switt, the Philadelphia jeweler who held at least ten examples of the 1933 Double Eagle got some good news from the judge ruling on their case against the U.S. Mint. But the final curtain hasn't fallen on this drama yet, so stay tuned. -Editor
1933_double_eagle_obv A judge in Philadelphia has ruled that the federal government must return 10 extremely rare gold coins to the family of a late Center City jeweler or outline its case for keeping them in a forfeiture filing.

U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis issued the ruling Tuesday in the case of the 10 1933 "double eagle" gold coins, which experts say could fetch millions at auction. The lawyer representing the family said the coins are thought to be the most valuable gold coins in the world.

The federal government seized the coins in 2004 when the daughter and grandsons of the late jeweler Israel Switt brought them to the U.S. Mint to be authenticated.

Joan Langbord and her sons Roy and David contended in a court filing that the seizure was illegal.

"The Langbord family reserved all their rights to the coin, and the government said it was government property stolen in the 1930s from the U.S. Mint and therefore they had a right to take it," said the family's attorney, Barry Berke.

"The judge said what the government did was a violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments," Berke said.

Michael White, a spokesman for the Mint, declined to comment yesterday because the case is still being litigated.

The Landbords' suit noted that in the previous seizure of another 1933 double eagle, the government split the proceeds with the owner after the coin sold for a record $7.59 million at a 2002 auction.

The suit also noted that the government allowed King Farouk of Egypt to own and export a 1933 double eagle in 1944 without questioning how it came into circulation.

To read the complete article, see: Judge says U.S. must return rare coins to Phila. family (http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/pa/20090801_
Judge_says_U_S__must_return_rare_coins_to_Phila__family.html)

The Associated Press picked up on the news as well with another story. -Editor


The judge's order released Wednesday calls for the government to initiate a forfeiture hearing by Sept. 28. The hearing would likely amount to a trial in which the government would have to prove Switt's family never legally possessed them, a family lawyer said.

Lawyer Barry Berke argues that some coins could have left the Mint legally through a gold exchange program in place at the time that attracted jewelers like Switt.

"There was a period of time where it was permissible to exchange gold coins for gold bullion," said Berke, who represents Switt's daughter, Joan S. Langbord of Philadelphia, and her sons, Roy Advertisement Langbord of New York City and David Langbord of Virginia Beach, Va.

They say they found the coins in a safe deposit box in 2003, 13 years after Switt died.

To read the complete article, see: US Mint must seek court OK to keep rare 1933 coins (www.mercurynews.com/natbreakingnews/ci_12966509?nclick_check=1)

Legal writer Alison Frankel, author of the book Double Eagle, published a commentary on the case in The AmLaw Litigation Daily on July 31st. -Editor
We've known Barry Berke at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel for a long time. Long enough, in fact, to have heard Berke say many times that he'd rather be known for his outstanding white-collar criminal defense record than as the lawyer who made possible the sale of the most valuable coin in the world, a $7.59 million 1933 gold $20 piece.

But we have a particular interest in Berke's sideline in coin litigation. Forgive the shameless self-plugging, but in 2006, we published Double Eagle, a book about the amazing history that culminated in the sale of that 1933 coin. And as we learned in our reporting for that book, Berke is one helluva good coin lawyer.

Further evidence of that talent came on July 28, when Philadelphia federal district court judge Legrome Davis ruled that the U.S. government violated the constitutional rights of Berke's clients, the Langbord family, when it seized 10 1933 Double Eagles that had allegedly been stolen from the U.S. Mint in a heist orchestrated the Langbords' ancestor. Granting Berke's motion for summary judgment, the judge ordered the goverment to initiate a hearing to prove that the coins had been stolen.

The 1940s investigators concluded that all of the Double Eagles that got out of the Mint had passed through the hands of a Philadelphia jeweler named Israel Switt. Though the lead Secret Service investigator pressed for charges to be brought against Switt, the Philadelphia U.S. attorney said the statute of limitations had expired. Switt was never prosecuted for the theft of the coins from the Mint.

In 2005--after the auction of the $7.69 million coin--Switt's daughter and grandson miraculously "found" 10 1933 Double Eagles in a safe deposit box that had belonged to Switt. Switt's grandson, a law school graduate named Roy Langbord, hired Berke to figure out how to keep the coins in the family's possession, even though the government maintained they were contraband that had been stolen from the Mint.

Berke's canny strategy was to turn the coins over to the government, but only for purposes of authentication. Then when the government refused to give the coins back--as Berke surely knew it would--he sued, claiming the coins had been illegally seized from the Langbords. And though assistant U.S. attorneys in Philadelphia argued that the Langbord family had unclean hands, Judge Davis ruled that the Langbords' constitutional protections had been violated. Now the burden of proof lies on the government, which must establish that the Langbord coins were stolen--even though everyone connected with the coins' disappearance from the Mint and the initial investigation of the alleged theft is long dead.

Did we mention that we wrote a book about this case? Double Eagle makes for great beach reading!

To read the complete article, see: Kramer Levin Pulls Off Summary Judgment Against the Government in Million-Dollar Coin Hoard Case (http://www.law.com/jsp/tal/digestTAL.jsp?id=1202432685437
&Kramer_Levin_Pulls_Off_Summary_Judgment_Against_the_Government_in_
MillionDollar_Coin_Hoard_Case)

Here are links to some earlier E-Sylum articles on the topic. -Editor


TEN 1933 DOUBLE EAGLES RECOVERED (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v08n35a02.html)

IZZY SWITT'S SIEZED 1933 DOUBLE EAGLES ON DISPLAY (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v09n31a04.html)

SWITT FAMILY SUES MINT FOR RETURN OF 1933 DOUBLE EAGLES (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v09n50a17.html)



Wayne Homren, Editor

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