U.S. must return rare double eagle gold coins to family

Fri Apr 17, 2015 2:55pm EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - The U.S. government must return 10 exceptionally rare gold coins worth millions of dollars each to a Pennsylvania family from which the purloined coins were seized a decade ago, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.

By a 2-1 vote, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Joan Langbord and her sons Roy and David are the rightful owners of the double eagle $20 gold pieces, after the government ignored their claim to the coins and missed a deadline to seek their forfeiture.

"The government knew that it was obligated to bring a judicial civil forfeiture proceeding or to return the property, but refused," Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell wrote. "Having failed to do so, it must return the Double Eagles to the Langbords."

Patricia Hartman, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger in Philadelphia, said: "We are weighing our options."

The Philadelphia Mint in 1933 produced 445,500 double eagles. But they were not circulated because President Franklin Roosevelt, trying to halt a bank panic, removed gold coins from circulation and made ownership of large amounts illegal.

Most of the coins were melted down, but a few were smuggled out, including one that fetched $7.6 million at a 2002 auction after having once been possessed by Egypt's King Farouk.

The government had long suspected without proving that the late Israel Switt, a gold dealer and father of Joan Langbord, had smuggled some of the coins with the help of a Mint employee.

It seized the Langbords' double eagles after the family located the coins in a safe deposit box once belonging to Switt, and sought to have the Mint authenticate them.   Continued...