Says Government Must Return Ten 1933 St. Gaudens “Double Eagles”
Court says Mint should have filed judicial civil forfeiture complaint
by Adam Crum
A federal appeals court on April 17, 2015 issued a favorable ruling for the Langbord family in the ongoing battle over who rightfully owns ten 1933 $20 St. Gaudens seized from the family over a decade ago. If this ruling holds, the family may get to keep the ten coins that were allegedly discovered more than a decade ago in a safe deposit box registered in the name of Jane Langbord’s father, Israel Switt.
The United States Court of Appeals vacated a previous judgment by a district court which declared the coins as government property that was unlawfully removed from the U.S. Mint. In so doing, the appeals court vacated a July 21, 2011 jury decision where 10 jurors unanimously ruled in favor of the government, concluding the coins were stolen property and still belonged to the U.S. Mint.
The three-judge appeals court held that the government was required to file a judicial civil forfeiture complaint or to return the coins within 90 days of receiving the Langbord family’s seized asset claim. The court held, “Because the Government failed to do so, the Langbords are entitled to the return of the Double Eagles.” The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings, so it is far from over . . . but for now the Langbord’s efforts to keep the ten coins is looking better.
While there remain many technicalities, it appears that the government lawyers’ failure to file a complaint for judicial forfeiture within 90 days of receipt of the coins is the basis for the ruling. The three-judge panel applied the framework of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA) which was passed in 2000 to provide protection against “the government’s too zealous pursuit of civil and criminal forfeiture” and as an “effort to deter government overreach.”
As to who is the rightful owner of the ten coins in question, that will be for the courts to decide. But to understand the history of why the coins are so hotly contested, one has to look through a very blurry window into the past. It is complex indeed; we know that President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order in 1933 that removed gold coins from circulation, and we know that the mint did, in fact, mint over $400,000 worth of Double Eagles prior to the signing of Roosevelt’s order on April 5, 1933.
However, the story is sketchy from there. We know that the 1933 Double Eagles were minted . . . and we know some did, in fact, make their way out the mint doors. What we don’t know is how many, and whether those coins left the mint before the signing of President Roosdevelt’s Executive Order 6102.
The public reaction to this ruling is already stirring emotions, and clearly people are split, with some showing support for the government’s belief that the coins should be forfeited, and some for the Langbord family’s unwillingness to do so. But one thing is certain: No matter what side of the fence you’re on, this is a story of major interest to coin collectors and investors everywhere.
Just what are the ten 1933 Double Eagle coins worth?
Following the public auction in 2002 of a 1933 Double Eagle which sold for $7,590,020 and is believed to have once been owned by the exiled Egyptian King Farouk, Joan Langbord and her sons, Roy and David, supposedly discovered the ten 1933 Double Eagles in Joan’s father’s safe deposit box. The Langbords informed the Mint of their discovery and submitted the coins to the Mint for authentication. After the coins were authenticated, the Mint asserted that the coins were government property and should be returned to the mint and told the family it had “no intention of seeking forfeiture of these ten Double Eagles because they already are, and always have been, property belonging to the United States; this makes forfeiture proceedings entirely unnecessary.”
The appeals court ruled that the government was wrong in believing that it did not need to abide by CAFRA because it perceived the property as stolen government property. The opinion states, “The Government’s original argument that stolen government property falls outside the protections of CAFRA is incorrect for a simple reason: Congress has specifically enumerated theft or embezzlement of government property as one of the crimes to which CAFRA applies.” Rather, “The Government was required either to return their property or to institute a judicial civil forfeiture proceeding within 90 days of the Langbords’ submission of a seized asset claim.”
So what are the 1933 Double Eagles worth? That is a tough one . . . certainly, the coins are worth a hefty sum – potentially, millions of dollars each – but the question is, will we ever see them sold into a willing market? That’s anyone’s guess! For now, though, the history and intrigue of this story will continue to stir the imaginations and opinions of collectors and investors alike.
My guess is this: If these ultra-rare 1933 St. Gaudens Double Eagles are ever offered for sale, there are at least eleven very wealthy individuals who will want to own a piece of this intriguing history . . . and the bidding will soar.
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