A judge has ruled that ten rare gold coins worth roughly $80 million belong to the U.S. government, not the family that possessed them, according to ABC News.
In 2003 Joan Langbord and two other family members opened a safety deposit box that belonged to Langbord’s father, Philadelphia coin dealer Israel Switt, and found the valuable collection. When they asked the Philadelphia Mint to authenticate the find, the coins were apparently seized without compensation and taken to Fort Knox.
The 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is “one of the most sought-after rarities in history,” according to Courthouse News. Originally valued at $20 each, one owned by King Farouk of Egypt reportedly sold for as much as $7.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2002.
The Langbords unsuccessfully sued the government in 2011, alleging that the coins are rightfully theirs, and now they have lost the appeal.
Jacqueline Romero, assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, explained that the coins legally belonged to the government after Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered citizens to exchange their gold for cash in an effort to keep the banks afloat during the Great Depression.
“Those coins were all in a vault and were supposed to be melted,” she asserted.
Newsy contributes, including an explanation of FDR’s policy:
The family maintains that in another seizure of the valuable coin, the government split the proceeds with the original owner after it sold for $7.59 million in 2002, and that the coins escaped the Mint legitimately through a “window of opportunity” between March 15 and April 5, 1933, the Huffington Post relates.
However, U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis Jr. wrote in his decision: “The Mint meticulously tracked the ’33 Double Eagles, and the records show that no such transaction occurred…What’s more, this absence of a paper trail speaks to criminal intent. If whoever took or exchanged the coins thought he was doing no wrong, we would expect to see some sort of documentation reflecting the transaction, especially considering how carefully and methodically the Mint accounted for the ’33 Double Eagles.”
“Nobody witnessed the disappearance of the 10 coins, but the jury could – and did – properly infer criminal intent,” Davis added.
Barry Berke, the family’s attorney, concluded for ABCNews.com: “This is a case that raises many novel legal questions, including the limits on the government’s power to confiscate property.”