In a momentous legal decision, a 10-member jury reached a unanimous verdict concerning the 10 rare 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagles that had purportedly surfaced in the possession of the Langbord family from Philadelphia in 2003. The jury ruled in favor of the U.S. government, asserting its rightful ownership of these historic coins. This pivotal decision was announced on July 20, marking the conclusion of the Langbord trial, a process that spanned ten days and culminated after approximately five hours of deliberation.
The deliberations commenced at 10:27 a.m., with the jury leaving the courtroom, and the final verdict was delivered at 3:25 p.m. The task of revealing the jury’s verdict fell to Juror No. 9, who also served as the foreman. Each jury member individually expressed their agreement with the government’s assertion that it had met the necessary burden of proof.
During the commencement of the day’s proceedings, Judge Legrome D. Davis addressed the jury, acknowledging the unique and “unusual” nature of the case. He underscored the scarcity of live witnesses and provided guidance on evaluating evidence, understanding the elements of the forfeiture claim, and the approach the jury should adopt during deliberations.
Judge Davis emphasized the importance of fact-based judgment and highlighted the Latin root of the word “verdict,” which means “speak the truth.” He delineated the standard of proof as a “fair preponderance of evidence,” requiring that the government’s case be “more probably true and accurate than not.” He illustrated this concept by invoking a scale, instructing the jury that even a slight tip in favor of the government warranted a victory for the government. However, he also reiterated that the burden of proof lay with the government.
Furthermore, he clarified the trial as a forfeiture case in which the Langbords contested the government’s right to seize the coins, emphasizing that this was a civil trial rather than a criminal one. The government had to establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, three key points: the coins had belonged to the United States government in the past, they were stolen, and the act of theft was committed knowingly to deprive the government of its property and convert it for personal gain.
After the verdict’s announcement, Roy and David Langbord swiftly exited the courtroom. In 2003, they had surrendered these 10 coins to the government in a bid to have their authenticity confirmed. Subsequently, the government confiscated the coins, prompting the Langbords to pursue legal means to regain possession and ownership. The government also accused Mrs. Langbord’s father, Israel “Izzy” Switt, of illicitly obtaining the coins, although he passed away in 1990 at the age of 95.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero, who led the government’s legal team, declared immediately after the verdict that “the People of the United States of America have been vindicated.” She asserted that this outcome should send a strong message that regardless of the duration that stolen government property remains unaccounted for, it rightfully belongs to the government.
Regarding the future of these coins, Romero refrained from confirming an earlier statement suggesting they should be housed in a museum, deeming it a “rhetorical flourish.” However, she indicated post-trial that they were unlikely to be melted down and would probably find some form of public display. Tom Jurkowsky, the Director of the U.S. Mint’s Office of Public Affairs, disclosed that a decision on the coins’ storage or display had yet to be made. Until such determinations were reached, the coins would continue to be housed at the United States Bullion Depository in Fort Knox.
The 10 rare 1933 $20 gold coins were temporarily relocated to Philadelphia during the trial to allow the jurors to inspect them, but they were subsequently returned to the U.S. Mint’s bullion depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky, where they had been stored since 2003.
Romero characterized this case, which she had devoted five years to, as “the coolest case you could get as an attorney.” When asked about potential disappointment among collectors over the coins not entering the market, she emphasized her belief that most coin collectors were individuals of high integrity who would not wish to collect stolen goods.
It’s worth noting that these 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle coins were originally valued at $20 each, but one once owned by King Farouk of Egypt commanded an astounding $7.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2002. The majority of the 445,500 double eagles struck by the Philadelphia Mint during this era were melted down into gold bars after the U.S. abandoned the gold standard.
Nonetheless, a Philadelphia Mint cashier managed to distribute some of these coins to a local coin dealer, Israel Switt. In 2003, Switt’s family, including his daughter Joan Langbord and two grandsons, uncovered the 10 coins when they opened a safety deposit box that had belonged to him. The Langbords, upon submitting the coins to the Philadelphia Mint for authentication, found them seized by the government without compensation, ultimately leading to the protracted legal battle. The Langbords contended that the coins rightfully belonged to them. David Enders Tripp, the government’s numismatic expert, expressed personal satisfaction with the verdict, describing it as a fitting conclusion to his decade-long involvement in this captivating story.