April 23, 2015
Family Receives Rare Double Eagle Gold Coins Worth $80M
By Maryclaire Dale
Philadelphia, PA - A family was awarded the rights to 10 rare gold coins possibly worth $80 million or more on Friday after a U.S. appeals court overturned a jury verdict.
U.S. Department of the Treasury officials insist the $20 Double Eagles were stolen from the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia before the 1933 series was melted down when the country went off the gold standard. They argued that Joan Langbord and her sons cannot lawfully own the coins, which she said she found in a family bank deposit box in 2003.
Langbord’s father, jeweler Israel Switt, had dealings with the Mint in the 1930s and was twice investigated over his coin holdings. A jury in 2012 sided with the government.
However, the appeals court returned the coins to the Langbords because U.S. officials had not responded within a 90-day limit to the family’s seized-property claim, filed in about 2004.
Family lawyer Barry Berke said: ``Congress clearly intended for there to be limits on the government’s ability to seek forfeiture of citizens’ property, and today’s ruling reaffirms that those limits are real and won’t be excused when the government violates them.’’
Langbord, who’s in her mid-80s, worked in her father’s store on Jeweler’s Row for most of her life. Her sons, entertainment lawyer Roy Langbord, of New York City, and David Langbord, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, joined her in the legal fight.
They do not plan to comment on the ruling and have not decided whether the coins will be sold, Berke said.
Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens designed the Double Eagle with a flying eagle on one side and a figure representing liberty on the other.
One Double Eagle, once owned by King Farouk of Egypt, sold in 2002 for $7.6 million, then a record for a coin. Its later owner, a London coin dealer once jailed by the U.S. over it, split the proceeds with the U.S. in a deal brokered by Berke.
The Langbords offered the government a similar split but were rebuffed.
The family had taken the coins to the Secret Service in Philadelphia to have them examined, Berke said.
``They authenticated the coins and said, `Thank you very much. We will now be keeping them,’’’ he said.
The Mint struck nearly a half-million of the Double Eagles in Philadelphia in 1933 but never released them. They were melted into gold bars after President Franklin D. Roosevelt abandoned the gold standard.
While prosecutors argued to jurors in 2011 that Switt must have stolen the coins with help from a Mint insider, Berke said he could have traded his scrap gold for them.
The U.S. Department of Justice said it was reviewing its options after Friday’s ruling. A Treasury spokeswoman had no comment.
Switt admitted to the Secret Service in 1944 that he had possessed and sold a set of nine other Double Eagles, which were recovered and destroyed. The surviving Farouk coin is believed to have been a 10th coin from that batch.
The Mint sent a pair of 1933 Double Eagles to the Smithsonian Institution for its U.S. coin collection.
Playwright Tom Stoppard Calls It ‘A Scary Time’ For Free Speech
By Mark Kennedy
Ap Drama Writer
New York (AP) Playwright Tom Stoppard said he will accept PEN’s highest award next month in New York to help put a spotlight on a ``frightening time’’ for free expression.
Stoppard is to accept the PEN/Allen Foundation Literary Service Award, the highest honor bestowed by the American chapter of the global human-rights organization of writers and editors.
``People like me are chosen, in a sense, to represent what PEN and other organizations are doing 24/7. So I can say I’m proud to represent them,’’ the playwright said.
Charlie Hebdo, the Parisian satirical magazine that was a target of a deadly shooting in January, also will be honored. Staff member Jean-Baptiste Thoret, who barely escaped the attack that killed eight of his co-workers and four others, will receive the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award.
Playwright Tom Stoppard
Stoppard, who has campaigned for oppressed artists and political dissidents in Eastern and Central Europe, said threats to free speech are worse now than ever, from radical Islam to U.S. government surveillance.
``The problem is deeper and, really, much more complicated. I think it’s quite a frightening time,’’ said the playwright, who scripted the Oscar-winning film ``Shakespeare in Love’’ and has written plays including ``Arcadia’’ and ``The Real Thing.’’
``You kind of stand there in your Western idea of what morality is and what amorality is and suddenly you’re not quite sure. You thought you’d always known what was which and suddenly, you’re not sure. This is the fate of thoughtful people as the century unfolds.’’
In addition to the Paris attack, PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel pointed to other moves against writers, including a gunman who opened fire on a Copenhagen cultural center in March and a South African novelist confined for comments she made in appreciation of Salman Rushdie.
``It is a climate of hair-trigger sensitivity to certain kinds of speech and a very dangerous moment for writers who are seated in the crosshairs,’’ said Nossel. ``It is a tough moment on many fronts.’’
Stoppard said he and fellow artists have lately found it difficult to tread the line between a desire for absolute right of free expression and the hope of being respectful to those with different beliefs and creeds.
``The Charlie Hebdo massacre was an appalling body shock to anybody who cares about life, let along literature. You are left thinking, `Well, if it comes to making a choice here, clearly one has to choose that one should be allowed and entitled to offend without being murdered for it,’’’ he said.
``That seems self-evident. That doesn’t mean that one is in harmony with the attitude or the particular instances of what is being said and written and drawn.’’