Langboard hoard of 1933 double eagles.

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Joan Langbord and her adult sons, Roy and David Langbord, assert rightful ownership of the gold pieces, opposing the Government’s claim that they belong to the United States. Their claim stems from the (re)discovery of 10 double eagles in a safety deposit box around 2003.
Following the auction sale of the Fenton coin, Joan Langbord reportedly found ten 1933 double eagles in a safe deposit box that had belonged to her late father, Israel Switt. Decade prior, the Secret Service had suspicions regarding Israel Switt, an antique dealer in Philadelphia, and George McCann, a former cashier at the Philadelphia Mint, for allegedly smuggling these double eagles unlawfully. However, Switt’s direct involvement in this alleged scheme was never substantiated. Among the limited known existence of about two dozen 1933 double eagles, several have been seized by the government. Prior to the Farouk specimen’s appearance, associated with Stephen Fenton in an FBI sting operation, none had long remained in collectors’ hands. In 2004, the Langbords’ attorney informed the Mint about the discovery of the Double Eagles,

Background: The 1933 Double Eagles, ten gold pieces valued at $20 each, were created based on President Theodore Roosevelt’s request by Augustus Saint-Gaudens shortly before the sculptor’s death in 1907. Over the next twenty-five years, the U.S. Mint circulated millions of these Double Eagles as legal tender. However, the Great Depression led to a shift. Shortly after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration on March 4, 1933, a series of orders were signed, effectively barring banks from dispensing gold.

Legal Battle Over 1933 Double Eagles: Government Seizure and Constitutional Rights.

Reserved Ownership: Langbords’ Submission of 10 1933 Double Eagles for Authentication to the US Mint

The Langbords initially surrendered the Double Eagles solely for authentication purposes, explicitly retaining all rights and remedies related to the coins. Despite the Mint confirming their authenticity in May 2005, they refused to return the coins to the Langbords. In 2004, an attorney representing Joan Langbord and her sons, David and Roy, informed the U.S. Mint of their possession of 10 Double Eagles. This attorney, who had previously worked with Fenton, expressed the Langbords’ interest in a setup akin to the one Fenton had with the government. The U.S. Mint showed willingness toward this proposal. The Langbords allowed their Golden Eagles to undergo authentication but firmly maintained their ownership rights to the coins. Soon after, all involved agencies—the U.S. Mint, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Secret Service, and the Department of Treasury—assembled to decide on the next steps. Every agency, except the U.S. Mint, leaned towards pursuing forfeiture. The U.S. Mint argued that as government property stolen from their premises, the coins should be returned without requiring forfeiture.

The government questioned Joan Langbord’s timing in discovering the coins, especially considering her frequent access to the safe deposit box over the years. Despite her admission of checking the box even a day before the auction of Fenton’s Double Eagle, she insisted she had no knowledge of the coins until she found them in 2003, wrapped in a Wanamaker’s department store bag at the box’s bottom. This revelation followed a moment when Roy Langbord, Joan’s son, and Switt’s grandson learned about Fenton and his Double Eagle from an article, prompting them to ask Joan if Switt had more of these coins. The district court overseeing the Langbords’ legal battle with the government highlighted that Joan claimed ignorance of the coins until 2003, a year post the publicized sale of the only known ’33 Double Eagle, but noted that the jury didn’t find her account convincing.

In July of the same year, attorney Berke appealed to the Mint to reconsider its decision, citing precedents involving other coins with uncertain backgrounds and contended that there were no grounds for the government to pursue forfeiture of the 1933 Double Eagles. Approximately a month later, the Mint dismissed Berke’s request in a writing.

The United States Mint has no intention of seeking forfeiture of these ten Double Eagles because they are, and always have been, property belonging to the United States; this makes forfeiture proceedings entirely unnecessary. These Double Eagles never were lawfully issued but, instead, were taken out of the United States Mint at Philadelphia in an unlawful manner. Indeed, the Langbord family was legally obligated to return this property to the United States … and will not be able to establish based on any reliable or admissible evidence how they currently possess, or ever possessed, title to this United States Government property.

US Mint

The Mint showed willingness to discuss the matter, but a meeting involving various agencies led to a divided opinion on pursuing forfeiture, with the Mint asserting the coins as government property. Despite authentication, the Treasury and Mint refused to initiate a forfeiture proceeding and maintained the coins as government-owned. Consequently, the Langbords’ counsel submitted a seized asset claim, but the Mint returned the documents without action. The original argument from the Government seemed to imply that the Langbords willingly handed over the Double Eagles. However, the District Court ruled during summary judgment that the Government’s seizure of the coins was unconstitutional, a point the Government did not challenge on appeal. The District Court highlighted that the Langbords did not intend the transfer to be permanent and promptly requested their return upon realizing the Government’s intention to keep the coins permanently. Seizing property, even if ultimately belonging to the Government, can breach the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, as recognized by the court, due to an infringement on possessory rights. The Langbords, by preserving their possessory right in writing during the transfer, maintained their claim, and the Government’s seizure of the Double Eagles was deemed unconstitutional by the District Court.

The Langbords then initiated a civil action in 2006, citing multiple claims against the Government. The District Court ruled in favor of the Government on certain claims but acknowledged Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations. The Government sought to file a judicial civil forfeiture complaint, which was granted despite objections from the Langbords. A jury trial ensued, resulting in a verdict favoring the Government, affirming that the Double Eagles were stolen from the Mint. On appeal, the Langbords contested the District Court’s rulings on various grounds, including the statutory deadline under CAFRA and the admission of evidence during trial.

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