Update: Government Seeks En Banc Review in “Double Eagle” Coin Case

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

A few weeks ago, I shared an article I published in the New Jersey Law Journal about a dispute over some rare coins that were allegedly stolen from the U.S. Mint more than 80 years ago: The Case Of The Missing Double Eagle Coins. The saga now continues.

As you may recall, the case of Langbord v. United States involved ten Double Eagle coins that were minted in 1933 but never put into circulation. It was believed that all of the Double Eagles had been melted down except for two that were sent to the Smithsonian. Over the years, however, several of these coins began to appear on the market. The government alleged that all of these Double Eagles were illegally removed from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia by a cashier, George McCann, in concert with a coin dealer, Israel Switt.

The Government was able to recover most of the purloined Double Eagles in the 1940's and 1950's without much fanfare. Several others slipped through the cracks, however, including one that was illegally removed from the Mint, but legally shipped to King Farouk in Egypt (the Government mistakenly granted an export license). When this  coin resurfaced in the mid-1990's, the Government seized it from a dealer trying to sell it. Given the confusion about its ownership created by the issuance of the export license, however, the Government agreed to auction it and split the proceeds with the owner. In 2011, it sold for a record $7.5 million at auction.

Shortly after the auction, Mr. Switt's daughter and grandsons, the Langbords, contacted the Government about 10 additional Double Eagles that they claimed to have found in Mr. Switt's safe-deposit box. They sent them to the Government for authentication and suggested that they be auctioned as well, with the Government splitting the proceeds with the Langbords like it had done with King Farouk's Double Eagle. The Government authenticated the Double Eagles, but refused to return them , claiming they were stolen property.

The Langbords sued to get the coins back. A jury ruled in the Government's favor, but a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed and ordered that the Double Eagles be returned to the Langbords. The Third Circuit held that the government failed to follow the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act ("CAFRA") and therefore could not keep the coins.

On July 1, 2015, the Government sought en banc review of this decision. The petition is, as expected, a sober, straight-forward recitation of the ways the Government believes the panel got CAFRA wrong, but it does contain at least one barb: "The family of a thief now stands to benefit in the millions of dollars on the basis of property that belongs to the people of the United States . . . . " 

Stay tuned to see if the Government's petition is granted and, if it is, what happens before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

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