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Category: Coins and the Law

Odyssey Marine Exploration Comments on WikiLeaks Information

“Black Swan” and HMS Sussex projects named in Government Communications

Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. (NasdaqCM: OMEX) a pioneer in the field of deep ocean exploration, was named in several U.S. State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks and furnished to the media worldwide. Some of the released cables suggest that the State Department offered special assistance in the “Black Swan” case to Spanish officials in exchange for assistance in acquiring a French painting confiscated by the Nazis during World War II and now controlled by Spain.

The cables indicate that the U.S. Government also provided confidential documentation on Odyssey to Spain.

Other State Department cables contradict Spain’s claims and support Odyssey’s previously stated version of events relating to the company’s activities in Spain, including the HMS Sussex project and the boarding of Odyssey’s vessels.

“While we are obviously concerned about these implications regarding the ‘Black Swan’ case, we are attempting to obtain additional information before taking any specific actions. I have personally sent a letter to the Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, requesting additional information and a review of the position taken by the U.S. in the ‘Black Swan’ legal case,” stated Greg Stemm, Odyssey CEO. “The possibility that someone in the U.S. Government came up with this perfidious offer to sacrifice Odyssey, its thousands of shareholders, and the many jobs created by the company in exchange for the return of one painting to one individual is hard to believe. The WikiLeaks cables clearly show that we have worked cooperatively and transparently with both Spain and the State Department for many years, in spite of claims to the contrary. That fact makes the revelations all the more disappointing. The cables also make us wonder what other agreements may have taken place between U.S. Government officials and Spain regarding the amicus brief filed in support of Spain’s position in the ‘Black Swan’ case.”

“We’ve wondered why the United States changed its long standing position on sovereign immunity, which prior to this case was consistent with U.S. law, international law and U.S. naval regulations that in order for a foreign country’s ships and cargo to be immune from the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts they must be engaged in military, non-commercial activities,” stated Melinda MacConnel, Odyssey Vice President and General Counsel. “These released cables do call into question the motivation behind the amicus brief filed by the Executive Branch supporting Spain in the ‘Black Swan’ case.”

Additional cables released support Odyssey’s statements that, contrary to allegations of certain Spanish officials, the company always cooperated with the Spanish Government and that permits from the Spanish government were granted for work on the HMS Sussex project. The cables also demonstrate the obstructionist activities carried out by certain Spanish officials who had personal reasons for trying to prevent Odyssey from working on the Sussex. These obstructions took place even though Odyssey has an exclusive contract for the archaeological excavation of this UK sovereign immune warship (which was on a strictly military mission when it sank in 1694 off the coast of Gibraltar). Odyssey filed an affidavit in 2007 with a chronology of Odyssey’s interactions with the Spanish Government since 1998. It can be accessed at http://shipwreck.net/pdf/ExhibitE.pdf. The document contains entries that are corroborated by information in the State Department cables, which directly contradict claims by some Spanish officials and the Spanish media. (more…)

Wikileaks Reveals State Dept Deal with Spain In Black Swan Treasure Lawsuit

For years, Odyssey Marine has been in litigation with the Spanish government over a 17 tons of gold and silver coins that Odyssey discovered from “The Black Swan”.

The 19th-century shipwreck at the heart of the dispute with Odyssey Marine Exploration is the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes — a Spanish warship sunk by the British navy southwest of Portugal in 1804 with more than 200 people on board.

The Legal Proceedings:

Odyssey announced in May 2007 it had discovered the wreck in the Atlantic and raised 500,000 silver coins and other artifacts worth an estimated US$500 million (€324 million). The coins and artifacts were brought into the United States with a valid export license and imported legally pursuant to U.S. law. Odyssey brought the artifacts under the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court by filing an Admiralty arrest action. This procedure allows any legitimate claimant with an interest in the property to make a claim.

Spain went to the U.S. federal court claiming ownership of the treasure and the case is currently set for Oral Arguments tentatively scheduled to take place during the week of February 28, 2011 at the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Additional appeals have been filed by groups who have presented documentation indicating that if Spain is correct, and the recovered cargo originated from the Mercedes, they are descendants of the owners of Mercedes’ cargo and have legitimate property rights. Those claimants have recognized Odyssey’s archaeological recovery efforts and have acknowledged Odyssey’s right to a salvage award. (more…)

California Gold Dealer, Superior Gold Group LLC is seized, assets frozen

On Monday, a California judge froze the assets of Superior Gold Group LLC of 100 Wilshire Boulevard, as well another office in Woodland Hills,  after it was accused of fraudulent business practices in a civil lawsuit filed against the company and owner Bruce Sands by the Los Angeles County district attorney and the Santa Monica city attorney.
Editors Note: This company has NO relationship to Superior Galleries, a well known and respected numismatic firm.

Superior Gold Group, which sold gold coins and bullion and other precious metals, is alledged to have taken  payments from customers but never delivered the gold ordered, charged prices much higher than fair market value and misled customers into buying expensive specialty coins according to the lawsuit, filed Friday.

In their lawsuit, the agencies said Superior Gold took advantage of investors who flocked to gold as the price of the precious metal rose and the value of many other investments fell in recent years.

“By fostering fear and confusion among its customers, Superior has induced them to pay far above market prices for various gold products,” the complaint said.

In a report by The LA Times, they recounted one victims story…”

Steven Siry, 61, of Los Angeles is one customer who believes he was ripped off. Siry said he invested $20,000 in a “gold IRA” through Superior Gold. But company representatives sold him collector’s coins at an inflated rate rather than offering him bullion, and it took more than a year and numerous phone calls before the coins were delivered to the trust company that was to hold them, he said.

Siry estimates the actual value of the gold, when it finally arrived, as a little more than half of what he paid for it.

“It was a big mess, it was uncomfortable, and I felt kind of stupid, quite frankly, because I didn’t do enough shopping before I used them,” he said.

In another complaint the victim stated: “Nearly two years ago (Mar. ’09), I purchased approx. $47, 000 worth of gold and silver coins (my entire life savings). I have yet to recieve (sic) a single coin! I have been calling for years and they refuse to give me my money back or to buy my coins,” (more…)

Sea Search Armada Seeks Rights to 1708 Shipwreck and Treasure Coins Worth $17 Billion

Sea Search Armada, a US-based salvage company, claims the Republic of Colombia owes it $4 billion to $17 billion for breaching a contract granting it the right to salvage the galleon San Jose, sunk by the British Navy on June 8, 1708.

The Spanish galleon San Jose was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships off Colombia on June 8, 1708, when a mysterious explosion sent it to the bottom of the sea with gold, silver and emeralds owned by private Peruvian and European merchants, and lies about 700 feet below the water’s surface, a few miles from the historic Caribbean port of Cartagena, on the edge of the Continental Shelf.

Jack Harbeston, managing director of the Cayman Islands-registered commercial salvage company Sea Search Armada, who has taken on seven Colombian administrations during two decades in a legal fight to claim half the sunken hulk’s riches.

“If I had known it was going to take this long, I wouldn’t have gotten involved in the first place,” said Harbeston, 75, who lives in Bellevue, Wash.

The 41-page federal lawsuit outlines a long, tortuous jpurney through the Colombian courts after the Glocca Morra Co. identified six shipwreck locations, between 1980 and 1985, operating with permission of Colombia’s Direccion General Maritima.

Harbeston claims he and a group of 100 U.S. investors – among them the late actor Michael Landon and the late convicted Nixon White House adviser John Ehrlichman – invested more than $12 million since a deal was signed with Colombia in 1979 giving Sea Search exclusive rights to search for the San Jose and 50 percent of whatever they find.

Colombia tried to weasel out of the deal after Sea Search recovered materials from the ship, proving it was down there. Colombia “delayed signing the written agreement it had drafted, and eventually refused to sign the offer it had made to SSA,” the complaint states. But nonetheless Colombia refused to let it salvage the shipwreck.

All that changed in 1984, when then-Colombian President Belisario Betancur signed a decree reducing Sea Search’s share from 50 percent to a 5 percent “finder’s fee.” (more…)

Coins and the Law: Recent Stories on Numismatic Crime

Alledged “Coin Broker” Convinced Elderly Woman to put Life Savings Into Gold Coins, then Steals them Back

The Manhattan DA’s office announced the indictment of a “rare coin broker” who allegedly convinced an elderly woman and her daughter to invest their life savings in rare gold and silver coins, and then stole $430,000 worth of the coins back from them.

The “Coin Broker/Advisor”, Stephanie Brown of Paradise Valley, Arizona, has been charged with grand larceny, fraud and forgery to name a few, and DA Cy Vance said, “The defendant preyed upon the victims’ fears of a national financial collapse and convinced them to sink their life savings into collector coins.”

According to a Wall Street Journal Article,”Over the next two and a half years, the 83-year-old mother ensnared in the alleged scheme spent $1 million — her life’s savings — and her daughter paid $80,000 to acquire about 160 coins, according to prosecutors. Brown earned $100,000 in commission on the sales.Brown began selling them coins in March of 2007, and soon convinced them to “liquidate all financial investments they held and to invest their life’s savings in gold coins.” The mother and daughter combined spent about $1.1 million on the coins, and Brown  reportedly earned commissions of about $100,000.

Brown then allegedly convinced the two to keep the coins at home, and then gained entry to their house, after which she was left alone with the coins. She is accused of destroying the documents identifying the coins and stealing 57 of their 160 coins, worth $430,000. Prosecutors have now recovered 16 of the stolen coins, which Brown had resold.

Brown is currently under investigation in connection with coin sales in California and Arizona, prosecutors said, but she has not been charged in those states. She was a former employee of ITM Trading and began her own business, GBA Gold, a/k/a GBA Investments LLC ( The Web Site has been suspended) 26546 N. Alma School Road #230 Scottsdale, AZ 85255 ( Better Business Member with an A- rating joined on 7/20/2010)

Editors Note: If you read through a number the articles written about this story, it is amazing to read certain statements and characterizations.

For example, Ms Brown was described as a “Rare Coin Expert” in one WSJ article. Funny, i thought she was just a thief and a con artist. Is she indeed a “Coin Expert” or just a person selling coins? You decide. Here is a link to a brief profile on Ms. Brown.

In another article the Daily News writer made the following comment on the Gold market; “While gold has traded at an all-time high, topping $1,400 an ounce in the past few days, collectible coins are not as safe as gold because they are gilt, not solid gold.”  Even Assistant District Attorney Adam Kaufmann gave his opinion on the coin market saying.”Gold coins are not a great hedge in these economic times” REALLY?

Finally Minyanville.com took a more political angle on the story with their headline “Gold Coin Scammer Takes Page From Glenn Beck’s Playbook” Somehow I don’t think this story has anything to do with Glen Beck, Fox News, Goldline or NY Rep Wiener. Give it a rest….

Stolen Coins Removed from London Auction

The Sofia News Agency reported that Bulgarian medieval coins which were to part of a Nov 10th auction by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc in London has been removed from the sale, including a very rare silver penny of despot Dobrotitsa, minted in Kaliakra.

In 2007, a collection of 500 medieval crosses and 2 000 medieval coins, including the said silver penny, were stolen from the home of one of the authors of the book titled “Bulgarian Antique Coins from the 9th to the 15th Century Period” , published in 1999.

After the joint operation between the Main Directorate “Criminal Police,” the Bulgarian Culture Ministry, and the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of Cassations, the Bulgarian medieval coins have been taken off the auction site and their sale halted. (more…)

The Whole Cultural Record

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting

In the latest issue of Archaeology magazine (Nov-Dec 2010) AIA President Brian Rose proposes an intriguing professional goal, saying — “We must preserve the whole cultural record.” By “We”, I presume that he means archaeologists, since nobody else on the planet would dare to dream so big. We need not guess about what he means by the “whole” record. Dr. Rose decries a series of events from the Damnatio Memoriae of Nero to the anti-Saddam activities of president day Iraqis and views a panoply of destructive events in history as examples of “Iconoclasm”. He makes the interesting statement that “For me, as an archaeologist, there is no excuse for the destruction of cultural property…” he goes on to say “We may never be able to temper the passion for destruction, but we can at least situate those passions in historical perspective and ensure that today’s historical evidence will still be here tomorrow.”

The logic itself escapes me because the “iconoclastic” events mentioned were in themselves cultural acts and just as historical and important as the events they reacted to. Deplorable and despicable as their destruction may have been, are the empty niches of the Bamiyan Buddhas any less a cultural record than the statues that once stood there? His statement is all the more remarkable since some archaeologists have openly advocated destroying cultural property recovered from their excavations, rather than allowing it to fall into private collector hands—and who in fact followed through with the deed.

How, I have to wonder, could everything listed in the UNESCO resolution as “cultural property” be stewarded by archaeologists ad aeternum? Here is the laundry list of items so defined in that resolution—I’ve posted it before, but it’s worth another look:

(a) Rare collections and specimens of fauna, flora, minerals and anatomy, and objects of palaeontological interest;

(b) property relating to history, including the history of science and technology and military and social history, to the life of national leaders, thinkers, scientists and artist and to events of national importance;

(c) products of archaeological excavations (including regular and clandestine)
or of archaeological discoveries ;

(d) elements of artistic or historical monuments or archaeological sites which have been dismembered;

(e) antiquities more than one hundred years old, such as inscriptions, coins and engraved seals;

(f) objects of ethnological interest; (more…)

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: Defining Coin Doctoring and Dipping, Additions to the PCGS Lawsuit Against Alleged Coin Doctors

News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #17

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

I. The filing and re-filing of this lawsuit

Over the last forty years, especially from the late 1990s to 2006 or so, the coin collecting community has suffered from the terrible problem of coin doctoring; coins are deceptively altered for the purpose of tricking experts, particularly those employed by the PCGS and the NGC, into concluding that a coin is of higher quality than it was before it was doctored. The process of doctoring a coin reduces its level of quality and, in many (though not nearly all) cases, permanently damages the coin. Coins ranging in value from less than $50 to more than $1 million have been doctored.

In many instances, doctored coins ‘turn’ at a later time, as unintended byproducts of doctoring processes result in unsightly delayed chemical reactions or the decomposing of added matter on the doctored coins. It is not unusual for a coin doctor to deliberately harm (often permanently) a coin that grades MS-64 in order to try to deceive experts into believing that it grades MS-66.

John Feigenbaum is president of David Lawrence Rare Coins (DLRC), and has been involved in the coin business for more than twenty years. In 2004 and 2005, DLRC sold one of the fifteen greatest collections of classic (pre-1934) U.S. coins ever to be publicly auctioned. Feigenbaum says, “in general I [John] applaud PCGS for taking action on this matter, and I think they should take any and all actions in the future towards parties that are trying to slip doctored coins past them.”

In my column of June 2, I analyzed the CU-PCGS lawsuit against alleged coin doctors, which was filed in late May. I encourage readers who wish to learn about this lawsuit, its importance and its implications, to read my column of June 2nd. On Aug. 10, CU-PCGS filed a “second amended complaint” along with a new motion.

II. The basics of the lawsuit

Although technically PCGS is a subsidiary of Collectors Universe (CU) and it is CU that filed this lawsuit, the PCGS predates CU and the PCGS is the core of Collectors Universe. Further, the PCGS certifies coins. So, it is clear and helpful to refer to the plaintiff as the PCGS as the lawsuit concerns allegations that dealers deliberately submitted doctored coins to the PCGS, without disclosing intentionally added defects, for the purpose of deceiving graders at the PCGS into assigning higher grades to such coins than the coins would have merited before they were doctored. Coin doctoring, of course, reduces the grade of a coin, often to the point where the coin no longer merits a numerical grade.

The submission contract that each dealer signs to be a dealer-submitter of coins to the PCGS for grading and authentication prohibits dealer-submitters from sending in doctored coins for numerical grading. At the very least, it is argued that dealers who submit doctored coins for numerical grading have breached their respective contracts with the PCGS. Moreover, the PCGS argues in the lawsuit that such coin doctoring is in violation of several Federal and California State laws. Curiously, attorneys for the PCGS declare that conspiracies to doctor coins and submit them to the PCGS fall under RICO statutes, and are thus said by the PCGS to constitute racketeering.

Importantly, attorneys for the PCGS argue that coin doctoring is not just a civil offense, a racket and a breach of contract. Attorneys for the PCGS maintain that coin doctoring is a crime under Title “18 U.S.C §331,” which is cited in the lawsuit as follows, “Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales or lightens any of the coins minted at the mints of the United States … [or] … Whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish or sell … any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled or lightened … Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years or both.” (more…)

Turkish Numismatic Association Chairman Cem Mahruki Call for change in Ottoman Coin Law

Gold and silver coins from the Ottoman sultans are being melted down because traders are afraid of being charged with smuggling Lamenting rules making it illegal to have, purchase or sell such coins in Turkey, Mahruki says it is time for the government to reform the law

The following is from an Article from Hurriyet Daily News

“Turkey desperately needs to change its legal injunctions against the trading of Ottoman coins if it wants to preserve such heritage, according to the head of the country’s top coin-collecting association.

“In our country, people who are seized with a copper coin from the Sultan Mahmud II that is not even worth a Turkish Lira are treated like smugglers,” said Turkish Numismatic Association Chairman Cem Mahruki, who added that the system was very different in Europe.

“In most of contemporary countries, especially in the European Union countries, old coins are freely purchased and sold over the Internet,” he said.

Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Mahruki said the Code of Protection of Cultural and Natural Properties banned the purchase and sales of coins until the last six sultans and only granted permission for collection under very stringent conditions.

Many moneychangers and junk dealers obtain old gold and silver Ottoman coins made of valuable metals everyday, Mahruki said, but added that such people typically melt and turn the coins into bars of gold for fear of the law.

“In this way, hundreds of kilograms of historic Ottoman coins vanish because those having these coins are considered as smugglers,” he said.

Law encourages smuggling

In this, the law does not prevent smuggling but, on the contrary, encourages it, Mahruki said. “Old coins that cannot find buyers in the country are found by smugglers for cheap prices and taken abroad.”

Noting that the potential for coin collection is high in Turkey, Mahruki said: “If the law is amended, coins that collectors easily purchase and sell will remain in the country and moreover, the ones abroad will be brought back. We can see its example in paper coins that can easily be collected, and coins inherited from the period of the last six Ottoman periods.”

Complaining about the high prices Turkish collectors must pay at European auctions to bring Ottoman coins back to the country, Mahruki said, “If the goal is to prevent smuggling abroad, there should be heavier punishments and measures against smuggling of these coins to abroad. It should be free to own, purchase and sales the Ottoman and Turkish coins.”

Mahruki also said the current law violated the right to property and that many families had old coins from their ancestors. (more…)

Ancient Coins: Freedom of Information and New Import Restrictions sought on Greek “Cultural Property”

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting Blog

Comments related to issues of cultural property management

The Freedom of Information Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966, was born from the notion that “the people” (as in each individual citizen) have a constitutional right to know how the government acts in their behalf. This is of course a democratic notion that nationalist governments do not share. One might wonder at times if it is a notion that the U.S. Government shares?

FOIA has been amended and altered in its execution by Executive Branch order or parallel legislation many times during the past 24 years. While a forest of trees have been exterminated in filling FOIA requests, the amount of information provided to the public has been a matter of constant and continuous concern and variability. What the situation boils down to, in a nutshell, is that the Executive Branch of the U.S. government releases eactly and only what it wants to release and when it wants to release it. The public often is obligated to fight in the courts for the most innocuous of details about some item or action of interest.

Filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit is an adventure in frustration—fraught with government impediments. The prosecution of a simple suit can be delayed by repeated government requests for extensions of time and the excruciatingly slow pace of the legal system in general. Then, the ultimate judgement is not always a black and white reflection of law. Political persuasion is not a stranger to the bench, and the outcome of litigation can depend, it seems, nearly as much on luck of the draw as on the merit of arguments presented. The consequence of this cumbersome review process is that the impetus for a request may well be moot by the time a judgement is rendered. The suit itself is sometimes more important, as a statement of dissatisfaction with government, and demand for accountability, than the material that might conceivably be released.

Why should any person, or organization, have to endure the trials and tribulations of litigation against their government to affirm basic rights promised by the law of the land?

The cause of this pervasive and untenable attitude of secrecy and unresponsiveness in American government is its very structure. Law is rightly regarded by the Legislative Branch as a means to assure rights and protections. Elected officials within the Executive Branch typically espouse a similar view. However, neither elected officials nor political appointees are directly involved in the execution and enforcement of law. This key, and often most important, element of any law is delegated to an army of bureaucrats that are directly responsible for that part where the rubber meets the road. The technical authority of politically appointed Secretaries and Undersecretaries, etc., means little in a world of revolving doors. Just as bureaucratic agencies can drag an issue on in the courts for years, they also can “stonewall” the most ardent elected or appointed official with relative ease and virtual impunity. The judiciary often seems, perhaps understandably, reluctant to serve as the nation’s guardian against government excess. (more…)

Odyssey Marine Exploration Challenges Claims by Spain in Its “Black Swan” Appellate Reply

Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. today filed its Reply to Spain’s Response in the “Black Swan” case, currently pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, Georgia. This is expected to be the last round of written pleadings at the appellate court level. Odyssey’s filing is available for review at http://www.shipwreck.net/blackswanlegal.php

Odyssey is appealing the district court’s dismissal of the case based on the court’s finding of lack of federal jurisdiction. Odyssey’s Reply presents the following documented facts that debunk the misrepresentations made by Spain that contributed to the clear error in the district court’s earlier ruling and that have been repeated in Spain’s appellate Response:

  • there was no vessel and there were no human remains located at the “Black Swan” site
  • Odyssey acted legally and appropriately in the recovery of the “Black Swan” artifacts
  • evidence, including accounts from Spain’s “experts” and Spain’s own contemporaneous diplomatic communications, prove that the Mercedes (the vessel Spain associates with the site) was on a commercial mission on her final voyage — a fact that legally voids Spain’s claim of immunity under settled international law and conventions
  • a distinction between cargo and vessel is allowed and even required by settled admiralty law; and — according to the manifest of the Mercedes, the vast majority of cargo on board did not even belong to Spain — even Spain concedes the cargo was “articles of Spanish citizens.”

“The emotional and inflammatory language used in Spain’s appellate response serves to distract from the truth and the relevant legal issues. The story Spain tells mirrors the one it told at the district level, where the court made clearly erroneous factual findings,” said Melinda MacConnel, Odyssey Vice President and General Counsel.

“Spain’s filing has painted a negative portrait of Odyssey, but the company has always acted in full compliance with the letter and spirit of the law. We brought the artifacts to the U.S. courts for proper adjudication of claims, but we didn’t even receive a hearing on the jurisdictional facts. If the court did not have jurisdiction, it would have no legal authority to order transfer of the property to Spain, who did not have possession of the coins. (more…)

ANA Urges Members to Contact Congress to Repeal New 1099 Requirements

The American Numismatic Association urges its members to contact their members of Congress and ask to repeal a law that could significantly increase the paperwork burden on dealers and increase the risk of identity theft for all collectors who buy and sell numismatic material.

Under Section 9006 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as health care reform legislation, businesses will be required to report all goods and services purchased in excess of $600 with an IRS 1099 form. As written, the law would, beginning in 2012, require all coin dealers to report on IRS form 1099 all goods and services (totaled across a taxable year) they purchase from other dealers and customers in excess of $600.

While the legislation applies to all types of businesses, an unusual burden would be placed on numismatic dealers who, unlike most businesses, buy goods and services from each other and their retail clients. In addition, dealers will be required to gather personal information on all clients who sell them goods or services in excess of $600, including name, address and social security number.

“All dealers will be disproportionately and unfairly impacted by this legislation,” said ANA Executive Director Larry Shepherd. “As a former dealer, I can see how a small-to-medium-sized dealer could easily be required to submit 1,000 or more 1099s in a typical year, at very significant cost. In addition, all collectors would be forced to give out personal information that could increase the possibility of identity theft. This section of the healthcare reform bill is a nightmare for everyone in this hobby. We need to make sure that our voices are heard.”

Shepherd cautioned that the numismatic community should understand that this is not a new tax, but rather a method by which the IRS can collect more information in hopes that more taxpayers will report taxable income. The assumption is that the new regulation would generate about $17 billion over 10 years, increasing tax revenue to cover some of the costs of health care reform.

Already, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) has introduced HR 5141 to repeal this part of the health care reform act, and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate, S. 3578. Both bills are titled “The Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act,” and will likely need more co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and Senate.

“The ANA urges everyone who loves this hobby to contact your representatives and urge them to sign on to HR 5141 and to contact both your senators and urge them to sign on to S. 3578,” Shepherd said.

The ANA has posted sample letters from dealers or collectors below and on its website at www.money.org.

For contact information on your members of Congress, go to www.house.gov or www.senate.gov. Anyone without a computer should contact the local office of your representative or senator, or call the U.S. Capitol at 202-224-3121. (more…)

Unique NJ Banknotes Stolen 2 Years Ago Returned to Owner at Long Beach Coin Expo

A unique six-note uncut sheet of $5 New Jersey National Currency notes stolen two years ago was returned to its grateful owner at the Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Collectibles Expo during dealer set up on June 2, 2010. The sheet was taken in an October 2008 burglary from the offices of dealer Kevin Lipton of Beverly Hills, California, and is the only item recovered so far.

Beverly Hills, California dealer Kevin Lipton happily holds the recovered six-note $5 National Currency sheet from the Branchville, NJ Bank stolen from his office in 2008.  It was recently recovered by Virgel Nickell and brought to him at the June 2010 Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Collectibles Expo.  (Photo credit: Donn Pearlman.)

“It’s the only thing stolen from my office that I ever cared anything about,” said Lipton who gratefully gave a $5,000 reward to the part-time dealer who recovered and returned the sheet.

“The notes are from Branchville, New Jersey, and that’s the town where I went to summer camp as a child. I bought the sheet at a Christie’s auction in 1982, and they were framed and displayed in my office for years. The notes are reminiscent of my youth,” explained Lipton.

The sheet is the only known six-note uncut sheet of Series 1929 Type II National Currency $5 notes from The Branchville Bank in Branchville, New Jersey. The notes are consecutively numbered, A000001 through A000006.

It was recovered unframed by Virgel Nickell of Santa Ana, California who describes himself as “a dabbler” in National bank notes. Nickell was at a swap meet in Huntington Beach, California in early May when he was approached by a young man who wanted to sell the notes.

“He wanted $500 for it. I figured it was a common sheet, but my reaction was that it was good buy at $500. But when a friend and I researched it on the Internet we learned it was not only rare, it was not mine,” said Nickell.

“I knew I couldn’t keep it. I had to return this to its owner, so I brought the sheet to Long Beach because I thought Kevin would be there. I wasn’t expecting anything in return. I cried when he gave me money for it. I wasn’t expecting that.”

“I couldn’t believe it when he showed me the notes. They’re the only thing taken that I cared about,” Lipton reiterated.

Long Beach Expo General Chairman Ronald J. Gillio was at Lipton’s table as the notes were being returned.
“Kevin was ecstatic. He was so excited, his face was just beaming,” Gillio said.

Anyone with information regarding the theft or the still missing coins and paper money is urged to contact the Detective Division of the Beverly Hills Police Department at (310) 285-2158.

Amicus Briefs Support Odyssey Marine’s Legal Position in Black Swan Treasure Coins Appeal

[ CoinLink News ]Several additional appellate briefs and amicus briefs have been filed with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Odyssey Marine Exploration’s “Black Swan” case. The filings support Odyssey’s argument that the trial court erred in dismissing the case because the recovered coins did not belong to Spain and therefore do not qualify for sovereign immunity, Spain did not have possession of the coins, and sovereign immunity only applies to vessels exclusively on a non-commercial mission.

Among the briefs were two separate filings by groups of descendants whose ancestors owned the cargo shipped aboard the Mercedes. The trial court actually missed the basis of their claims calling them “descendants of those aboard the Mercedes.” The trial court, the descendants argue, also missed the fact that no vessel was found at the site and that in any event, property rights to cargo are distinct from the rights to the vessel.

An amicus brief (a filing by a “friend of the court” not a party to the case) was also filed by a congressional delegation led by Congressman Gus Bilirakis. That filing clarifies relevant legislation in the case and asserts that if the Mercedes was on a commercial mission at the time of its demise, as all evidence proves, that vessel should indeed be subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.

“We are very pleased that Congressman Bilirakis and the other members of Congress who submitted this brief understand the dangerous implications of the district court’s decision here,” said Melinda MacConnel, Odyssey’s Vice President and General Counsel. “If any foreign vessel is allowed to escape the jurisdiction of our courts regardless of its mission or the cargo it carries, there could be grave environmental consequences and national security ramifications. It is very clear that only warships on strictly non-commercial missions are meant to enjoy sovereign immunity, and we feel confident that the Eleventh Circuit will confirm that.”

CNN Video of Black Swan ClaimsAdditional signatories to the brief include: Congressman Bill Young, ranking Republican Member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Congressman Connie Mack, Congressman Vern Buchannan, Congressman Thomas J. Rooney, and Congressman Thaddeus McCotter.

The Historical Shipwreck Salvage Political Action Committee, joined by the Institute of Marine Archaeological Conservation and Fathom Exploration, Inc., also submitted an amicus brief arguing that if the trial court’s decision stands it could mean the end of archaeologically sound shipwreck recovery and conservation because salvors would have no incentive to properly document their finds or give notice to parties with potential interest. They echo the praise of Odyssey submitted by some of the descendant claimants as, “dedicated professionals who set the highest standards for maritime salvage and archaeology of deep water wrecks…Without the continuing courageous efforts of Odyssey there would be no benefit to the claimants and perhaps of greater importance no benefit to the public.”

Peru has also filed an appeal of the trial court’s ruling, as has a Florida doctor claiming to have historical contractual rights to any property in Florida owned by Spain. All appellants argue that because the court did not conduct a hearing on any of the issues, there was a violation of due process. (more…)

Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The PCGS Lawsuit Against Alleged Coin Doctors

News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #3

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

I. Today’s Theme

Welcome to the third installment of my column. I had planned to write more about auctions and about current demand for rare Liberty Seated coins. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the most important lawsuit in the history of coin collecting: The PCGS lawsuit against six named individuals and other not yet named individuals regarding coin doctoring is pathbreaking and earth shattering.

Even if the PCGS does not prevail on all points or against all defendants, the educational value of this suit, and the impact that it will have on coin doctors, goes way beyond the fate of these defendants. For legal reasons, I will not comment on the defendants in this suit. I am asserting that a significant number of coin doctors who are not defendants will be discouraged by this lawsuit from doctoring coins.

The PCGS SecurePlus™ program, which was inaugurated in March 2010, also discourages coin doctoring. For some discussion of the ‘plus’ aspect of the program and my idea as to how the NGC can discourage coin doctoring, please see last week’s column.

Under the SecurePlus™ program, submitted coins are scanned, for purposes of identification, with CoinAnalyzer devices. The PCGS will be able to identify each scanned coin if it is submitted to the PCGS again in the future, and, when a match is found, the submitted coin will be closely compared to an image of the same coin that was taken when it was previously submitted. Changes in the appearance of each matched coin will be investigated. The positive effects of the SecurePlus program, though, will build very gradually over a period of many years. This lawsuit will be extremely effective at discouraging coin doctoring in the near future.

Four years ago, when coin doctoring was rampant in the dealer community, had PCGS officials threatened a coin doctor with a lawsuit, the coin doctor probably would have figured that PCGS officials were bluffing. I am almost certain that this is the first time that a grading service has sued some of its dealer-members for submitting coins that are allegedly doctored and misrepresented.

Now, if PCGS officials threaten a coin doctor with a lawsuit unless he stops submitting doctored coins to the PCGS, the threatened individual is likely to take the threat very seriously and believe that the PCGS might actually follow through with a suit. Yes, I realize that not every coin doctor will be deterred by the threat of a lawsuit. Most will be deterred, at least to an extent. (more…)

Federal Lawsuit Filed Against “Coin Doctors” by Collectors Universe / PCGS

Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) today sent out a Press Release  announcing  a major lawsuit has been filed in United States District Court, Central District of California, against six individuals claiming they engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity, breach of contract, conspiracy, unfair competition and fraud for allegedly submitting “doctored” coins to PCGS for grading on multiple occasions for a period of years.

The Defendants named in the suit include: Al Rossman of Nevada, Rick Wesslink of California,  Robert Lehmann of Maryland, in addition to three members of the Professional Numismatists Guild ; Eric Steinberg of Florida, Silvano DiGenova of California, and Greg Krill of California

PCGS stated that as many as 10 other defendants could be added to the Complaint.

The suit claims the dealers violated federal laws, including the Lanham Act involving interstate commerce and RICO racketeering statutes, and also alleges “unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business practices” for submitting coins that were deceptively altered in an attempt to increase their value.

Click Here to view a Copy of the Complaint

The Complaint states: “Defendants knew that these coins had been ‘doctored,’ by themselves and/or other persons engaged by them for that purpose. Their methods included lasering the surfaces of extremely rare proof gold coins to remove surface imperfections, building up commonly-worn or weakly-struck portions of coins, and other physical and chemical processes. Defendants represented to PCGS that these coins had natural surfaces, intending to deceive PCGS’s graders so that the ‘doctored’ coins would be certified by PCGS and then sold in the rare coin marketplace.”

A couple of examples given in the complaint include the following coins:

  • 1885 $5 gold piece, originally submitted to PCGS on Dec 16, 2009 by Steinberg on behalf of Defendant Rossman. Foreign substance added to coin’s surface to cover marks.
  • 1879 $4 Stella gold piece, Originally submitted by Heritage on May 8, 2008. Resubmitted on August 28, 2008 by DiGenova after having been laser treated to remove lines. PCGS refused to grade the coin.

The suit claims the “Defendants have caused, and are continuing to cause, substantial and irreparable damage and injury to Collectors Universe and to the public and Defendants have benefited from such unlawful conduct and will continue to carry out such unlawful conduct and to be unjustly enriched thereby unless enjoined by this Court.” (more…)

Odyssey Marine Exploration Files Appellate Brief in “Black Swan” Case

Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. (NasdaqCM: OMEX) has filed its Appellate Brief in the “Black Swan” case with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

In the brief, Odyssey demonstrates that the district court erroneously dismissed the case by using flawed legal analysis and by failing to acknowledge or understand several major aspects of the case, including the issue of sovereign immunity.

Odyssey’s brief cites the recent favorable ruling by the Eleventh Circuit for the salvor in the Aqua Log (Aqua Log, Inc. vs. State of Georgia, 594 F.3d 1330, 11th Cir. 2010) case. This ruling was made shortly after the district court ruled in the “Black Swan” case and is a beneficial clarification of sovereign immunity in support of Odyssey’s position. In the Aqua Log case, the Court ruled that the sovereign must be in possession of the salvaged items in order to claim immunity from the courts in an admiralty case.

“The precedent set in the Aqua Log case is very relevant to the ‘Black Swan’ case and Spain’s sovereign immunity claim. The Eleventh Circuit found, as we had argued to the district court in our case, that a sovereign could not claim to be immune from the jurisdiction of the court when it did not have possession of the salvaged goods. It’s clear that Spain never owned the majority of the cargo here and did not have possession of them either,” said Melinda MacConnel, Odyssey Vice President and General Counsel. “The district court apparently dismissed the fact that there was no vessel present at the “Black Swan” site. The concretions of coins found by Odyssey were scattered over an area bigger than six football fields, with no coherent ship’s hull or structure. Even if that cargo did come from the Mercedes, it is well documented that the majority of the Mercedes’ cargo was owned by private merchants who paid for its transport and the Mercedes was carrying paying passengers. Under well-established U.S. and international law, vessels on such commercial voyages do not have sovereign immunity.”

The opening brief also points out several erroneous factual findings and legal conclusions made by the district court including the following:

  • The district court did not conduct an evidentiary hearing on the disputed issues of fact, unquestioningly accepting testimony presented by Spain. This was a violation of due process for all of the claimants as well as Odyssey.
  • The district court erred in failing to recognize that the Defendant in the case (an in rem proceeding) was NOT Spain or a vessel owned by Spain. The actual Defendant in the case was the group of coins and artifacts (the res in this case) discovered and recovered by Odyssey.
  • (more…)

Testimony at the Cultural Property Advisory Committee Hearing: To Be or Not To Be

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting

That is the Question on everyone’s mind this morning as the Cultural Property Advisory Committee reconvened on Friday to consider the extension of a bilateral agreement with Italy that restricts the importation of certain classes of antiquities into the United States. Thursday morning, the committee heard comments in open public session from representatives of five main groups of concerned citizens—Archaeologists, Museum Administrators, Art and Antiquity Collectors, the Numismatic Trade and Ancient Coin Collectors.

From the numismatic community’s perspective, extension of the current Memorandum Of Understanding in some form seems a foregone conclusion, though some opponents argued very persuasively that the whole MOU is badly flawed and should be scrapped. The pressing issue for coin collectors is whether the addition of coins, already exempted in two previous five-year terms of the MOU, is to be or not to be.

In an era when politicians on both sides of the aisle are clamoring for transparent government and “sunshine” laws offer a promise of fair play and access, the U.S. State Department doggedly maintains its “distance” from the looking glass of public scrutiny.

None of the seven speakers from the numismatic community had the foggiest notion whether Italy had even requested that coins should be added—an ironic situation, since the State Department hearing was held in that part of Washington known as “Foggy Bottom.”

Unlike the mysterious Chinese request some years ago, one might presume, from the comments of Mr. Stefano De Caro, General Director of Antiquities within the Italian Ministry of Culture, that Italy did indeed ask for the addition of coins—even though the State Department ignored direct requests for an answer to that question.

Sebastian Heath, whose affiliation was vague and was actually the point of a followup question by one committee member, was listed by the State Department as an American Institute of Archaeology representative. He claimed, upon pressing of the point, that he actually represented himself. The fact that Heath often works for or at the American Numismatic Society, and personally participated in drafting the ANS statement on cultural property, was questioned in light of his recommendation that coins be added to the MOU.

The ANS statement says, in part, “…..within the world of artifacts, coins as a class do, in fact, stand apart.” Heath avoided the apparent conflict of positions by stating repeatedly that to his knowledge the ANS takes no position in the issue. It would have been interesting to see that question explored in some depth, but Mr. Heath mercifully escaped being hoist with his own petard for lack of time in the busy agenda. (more…)

A Time to Speak Out – Will Ancient Coins from Italy be Restricted?

The U.S. State Department has announced a date of May 6-7 for Cultural Property Advisory Committee hearings on the request for renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Italy. Hopefully your eyes are not already glazed over by this first sentence.

In practical terms, the U.S. government is about to decide whether antiquities and other forms of cultural property that Italy claims as its heritage ought to be restricted from entry into the U.S. unless accompanied by Italian export permits. There is already such an agreement in place, but ancient coins have been exempted twice before in these renewal requests that cover a 5-year window.

We have very good reason to believe that Italy and members of the archaeological community will this time seek to add coins to the list of restricted items.

There is a period open for public comment on the issue and the best way to comment is by fax. Don’t despair, this is VERY easily done. Simply go to the ACCG web site at http://accg.us and click on the Fax Wizard link (picture of U.S. Capitol Building) on the left side of the page. It says “Fax Your Legislator” but will indeed send your message to the State Department. You will be guided through a brief and easy to follow process that sends a free fax to the State Department registering your views.

Why oppose these import restrictions? Because Roman coins are at the very core of the cultural experience that we all treasure. They have circulated all over the known world in antiquity and since through trade and collector markets. It is impossible to distinguish a Roman coin found in Britain, for example, from exactly the same type, mint, etc found in Italy.

Requiring an export permit from Italy on a coin found and legally exported from Britain would not only be impractical, it would not have any legal foundation. Still, any court challenge by an individual is unlikely since the legal costs usually far exceed the value of seized objects.

We simply MUST oppose any expansion of the MOU with Italy to include coins. We must do so with an absolutely resounding voice.

Import restrictions are simply not a viable solution to protecting archaeological sites. They are an idealist panacea that cause far more harm to society than any possible good. Excluding the U.S. collector and trade from the legitimate world market for Roman coins, or unilaterally forcing draconian documentation requirements on Americans, would be grossly prejudicial and would certainly be against the interests of American citizens and their traditional freedoms. (more…)

Exaggeration in the “Cultural Heritage” Debate on Ancient Coins

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting
Many readers of this blog have undoubtedly been to Disney World in Orlando, Florida and taken a course at the Imagination Institute sponsored by Eastman Kodak. Figment, a cute and colorful dragon accompanies the visitor on a “people-mover” journey through the land of dreams.

The whole experience is accompanied by a captivating musical composition in which the theme IMAGINATION spools repeatedly. That tune becomes so deeply imbedded in the subconscious that one finds themselves humming it for the rest of the day and truthfully for years after.

The Cyprus mail article, titled “US collectors to regain right to trade ancient Cyprus coins” was a tiny bit of an exaggeration, unless the author knows something that I don’t know.

When I read a recent press release on Cyprus Mail, I couldn’t shake that Disney tune. But, instead of IMAGINATION ringing in my ears it was EXAGGERATION!

The ACCG has merely begun the long and tedious challenge that will ultimately ensue. Even though it would be the prudent, honorable and decent thing to do, I don’t see Cyprus or the U.S. State Department folding their cards on this issue. But the Cyprus Mail article contains an interesting quote nonetheless. Maria Hadjicosti, Director of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus Museum Nicosia, said about the coins imported by ACCG for the subject test case:

“There is not much financial value in antiquities, but the coins are not just money….They are important archaeological items, because they can be accurately dated and used for historical study.” This is basically a true statement as it pertains to coins. While even archaeologists debate the utility of coins for dating strata, they obviously are of some value to anybody who finds them, including archaeologists. The most striking portion of the quote is however the admission that, relatively speaking, there is not much value in them—either financially or in terms of national heritage. Certainly not when compared to unique objects like the Rosetta Stone or the Euphronios Krater.

That revelation by Ms. Hadjicosti flies directly in the face of sensationalizing statements (exaggerations) by nationalist advocates who claim that the antiquities trade is third only in size to the illegal drug and weapons trades. These same nationalist gurus, mainly archaeologists, promote themselves and their “colleagues” as brighter, morally superior and specially ordained to promulgate their dogma.

(more…)

Collectors Claim Bias Epitomizes State Department Advisory Committee Management

Kerry Wetterstrom, representing the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, opposed adding U.S. import restrictions on coins at a Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) hearing November 13, 2009. The occasion was an interim review of a Memorandum of Understanding with Italy. Wetterstrom, publisher/editor of The Celator, wrote in his latest editorial:

accg_cyp_chi_coins“This was the first such hearing that I have attended, and it was an interesting, albeit a bit frustrating, experience. I came away from this hearing with the strong belief that the odds are against the ancient coin collecting community in receiving a ‘fair shake’ from the U.S. Department of State, specifically its Cultural Heritage Center office, at these CPAC hearings.

“The three speakers representing collectors and dealers were invited to speak first, each speaker was limited to five minutes, and we were informed that this would be strictly enforced…

“…though I entered the hearing with a bit of trepidation, the hearing’s casual atmosphere had a calming effect on my nerves. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to finish reading the two-page statement that I had prepared, and after answering a couple of questions from the committee, I walked back to my seat thinking that this was the fastest five minutes I had ever experienced. Later, several people commented to me that they believed I had been cut off before the end of my allotted time.”

Other speakers, who advocate import restrictions on coins, were reportedly allowed to exceed the published time limit with comments ranging up to 30 minutes. Wetterstrom concluded that, “Based on this experience, I now know that the best option that the ancient coin collecting community has for a ‘fair hearing,’… is through the court system…” (more…)

Ruling in FOIA case condones DOS intransigence on ancient coin import restrictions

A long-awaited ruling fails to address serious issues within the U.S. State Department bureaucracy.

accg_cyp_chi_coinsUS District Court Judge Richard Leon—well known for his pro-government views—has issued a ruling upholding the State Department’s refusal to disclose information about the controversial decisions to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot and Chinese type. The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and the other Plaintiffs in this suit remain committed to seeking transparency and accountability from the State Department (DOS) bureaucracy and are considering whether to appeal this ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Despite the disappointing decision, this litigation was in many ways a win for the plaintiffs. The mere fact that ACCG and the other Plaintiffs brought this FOIA action forced the State Department to process all the Plaintiff’s FOIA requests–including some that had been ignored by DOS for as much as three years. As a result of this action, literally hundreds of pages of requested text were released and the State Department was prompted to produce documents implicating high level political interference as the reason for the Cypriot decision. Other information stemming from this litigation suggests that State Department personnel added coins to the Chinese request without a formal request from China for that inclusion. The decision rendered by Judge Leon dealt with those items still remaining on the plaintiff’s list that DOS had refused to release. While the plaintiffs obviously would have been happier with a summary judgment on their motion, the process was not without considerable rewards.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild still plans to pursue a test case regarding whether those import restrictions were promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious fashion. A copy of Judge Leon’s Memorandum Opinion can be found here.

Symbiosis Lost and Nuance in New York

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Blog

Ancient coins have existed since the 7th century BC. They attracted the interest of collectors shortly after that and have continued to inspire ordinary people around the world for going on three millennia.

coin_warsDuring the Italian Renaissance, the collecting of ancient coins became so popular that a sophisticated commercial market emerged and numismatic scholarship blossomed. Anyone with sufficient interest and erudition was able to study the past through its coins. The development of numismatics as a science is a result mainly of private collectors and their dedication to the pursuit of knowledge. When academia became aware of the value of coins as voices from the past, coin collectors and professional scholars found that they had much in common and worked closely together. Yes, that was a long time ago.

What we see today is a bitter turf war between private collectors, independent scholars, museums, nationalist governments and archaeologists. What happened to the symbiosis?

Deep within the collecting community, there is still a longing for cooperation and symbiotic support with those academics who dedicate their lives to study of the past. But, the mutual cooperation and respect of those halcyon days is all but gone. The only words that most private collectors hear from archaeologists these day are disparaging. And, in equal measure, the response is unfriendly.

As archaeological blog comments about the recent CPAC hearing on Italy reveal, the symbiosis is all but dead. It is unlikely ever to reappear to the extent that we saw in the 19th or 20th centuries. That is sad from a collector’s point of view, but is it equally sad from the academic archaeologist’s point of view? I am coming to doubt that it is. They have very little use for private collectors and are not reticent to say so. (more…)

PCGS Helps Police Arrest Counterfeit Coin Suspect

morgan_sandwitch_pcgsInformation provided to Northern California law enforcement authorities by Professional Coin Grading Service led to the arrest of a suspect who is now under investigation in connection with the sales of fraudulently altered Morgan dollars in tampered PCGS holders for nearly $300,000.

“Genuine, common date Morgan dollars were split into two pieces (front and back along the rim), then adhered to each other in combinations to create the illusion of rare date and mintmarks. The coins then were placed in tampered PCGS holders to give the coin credibility in the marketplace and to hide the alterations,” said Stephen Mayer, Chief Operating Officer of Collectors Universe, Inc. (NASDAQ: CLCT), parent company of Professional Coin Grading Service.

Among the fraudulent alterations were “1883-S,” “1884-S” and “1903-S” that were deceitfully labeled as PCGS MS65, MS63 and MS64, respectively.

After learning about the fakes in late September, Mayer contacted the U.S. Secret Service. Mayer also worked with the Alameda Police Department, providing investigators with detailed information about the altered coins, the altered PCGS holders and six California dealers who purchased or were offered counterfeit or suspicious coins that reportedly were originally offered or sold by the same seller.

Roberto Blas Rodriguez, age 32, of Hayward, California was arrested October 7, 2009 by Alameda Police. He is charged with fraud, suspicion of burglary and violating trademark law, and is free on $45,000 bail.

PCGS was first alerted on September 21 about suspicious coins by Spectrum Numismatics of Irvine, California, a PCGS-authorized dealer.
(more…)

The “illicit” antiquities trade

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting Blog

clutural_nationalismFor the past five years I have read a nauseating stream of blog posts, news articles, discussion list comments and convention presentation reports that condemn the “illicit” trade in antiquities. The fact that anyone might condemn illicit activity is not in itself nauseating, but the ringing of the same bell 24/7 until the brain fogs over in biological rejection is not only nauseating but obnoxious. It reminds me of the parent in a grocery story who repeatedly harps (in the most irritating shrill cacaphony) “Johnny, don’t touch that!” over and over and over until you wish they would take little Johnny and paddle his behind (even though that is certainly not PC these days.) Really, it’s not little Johnny that needs paddling, it is the parent for not approaching the problem with a reasonable and effective solution.

When do the harpies of cultural property nationalism ever talk about the “licit” antiquities trade? From the ratio of ink spilled, one would presume that there is not even a legitimate trade in existence. Never mind that there are laws in Britain and the United States that protect private collectors and the legitimate trade in antiquities. Never mind that countries like Greece, Italy and Israel (among others) have state licensed and regulated antiquities dealers. Never mind that EC rules prohibit restrictions on the legitimate exchange of antiquities between private citizens and businesses within the European Union. Is there a legitimate trade? Of course there is, only an idiot would suggest that there isn’t. But is there any attempt among cultural property nationalists to work with the legitimate trade and private collectors to reduce incidents of archaeological looting? Very little if any, and none that I am personally aware of. In fact, as Executive Director of the ACCG, it has been my observation that the door is not and has not been open to any such collaboration for well more than a decade—and, in fact, the ACCG has tried.

The obsession among cultural property nationalists (especially those archaeologists who blog about the subject) has been to label everything without a documented provenance as illicit. Because much of the trade in antiquities does not require documented provenance, and because provenance is not especially valued by collectors of minor objects, it often does not exist. Consequently, the entire trade is painted with a broad brush as illicit. Excuse me, but that’s an asinine position and one that is a non-starter for any serious discussion. No legal system, short of autocratic government, recognizes a premise where something is illegal unto proven legal. In fact, attempts to create this sort of legal environment have led to several major upheavals in global society. A common coin or a clay pot, that is literally one of millions of surviving specimens, is treated by hardline nationalists in the same light as the Rosetta Stone. They can rave on about context and priceless information, but really, one doesn’t have to think very hard to see through that. (more…)

Ancient Coin Collectors Challenge U.S. State Dept. Bureaucrats After Baltimore Seizure

A small packet of inexpensive Chinese and Cypriot coins imported from England by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) have been seized by Customs in Baltimore, Maryland.

coin_import_banThe coins were imported to test the legitimacy of State Department (DOS) imposed import restrictions via two Memoranda of Understanding (MOU). ACCG maintains that actions of DOS relating to implementation of the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) have been secretive, arbitrary and capricious and will contest the seizure in the U.S. Federal District Court in Baltimore.

Information from another Freedom of Information Act lawsuit suggests that the DOS failed to follow the recommendations of its own experts on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in extending restrictions to Cypriot coins, and then misled Congress about this decision. Other information implicates DOS bureaucrats adding coins to the Chinese MOU even though Chinese officials never asked for their inclusion.

The Obama Administration has promised transparency and accountability in government. ACCG hopes its challenge to the ban on ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins will lead the Court also to address these and other concerns about the process for imposing import restrictions on cultural goods.

During a 2008 International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) discussion, former CPAC Chairperson Jay Kislak (2003-2008) said, “I am not necessarily against any actions that were taken on any of the MOU’s which were recommended by the Committee and put into action. I am, however, opposed to the way it is done because I think it is absolutely, completely, un-American, and I don’t mind saying that. Not anywhere in our government do we do things this way, except with this group.”

Kislak also addressed government transparency by saying, “In every other branch of government, there is disclosure, and information is made public. We have a democracy, and it is government of the people, for the people, by the people, not by the bureaucrats over them.”
(more…)

Judge Rules that Gov’t Improperly Seized 1933 St. Gaudens Gold coins

In a stunning rebuke to the US Mint and the Treasury Department, U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis ruled that the government improperly seized 10 1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagles (Possibly worth millions d dollars each), and denied the Langbord family due process when Mint officials decided to keep them after they were authenticated without a hearing.

“The government’s ‘good-faith’ belief that the coins were once stolen is not sufficient, under the circumstances, to justify its decision to conduct a warrant less seizure,” Davis wrote.

The case which has been in litigation since, revolves around one of the most fabled coins in all of US Numismatics.

By way of a brief background; The 1933 $20 Double eagle was the last year of production in the popular Saint gaudens series. At the same time the coins were being manufactured, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made private gold ownership illegal in the US, All the 1933 Double Eagles were supposed to have been destroyed.

Unknown to Mint officials, a limited number found their way out of the mints possession. Historically this is not an unusual occurrence, and dozens of documented cases exist where non regular issue coins have been removed, sold, or otherwise were created for privileged individuals or enterprising collectors with contacts within the Mint itself.

In the 1940s, when the government got wind that coin dealers were selling 1933 Double Eagles, and the Secret Service launched an investigation and eventually seized all the coins it could find. One that evaded the government efforts and was reported as part of the King Faruk collection (Egypt). The 1940s investigators concluded that all of the Double Eagles that got out of the Mint had passed through the hands of a Philadelphia jeweler named Israel Switt. Though the lead Secret Service investigator pressed for charges to be brought against Switt, the Philadelphia U.S. attorney said the statute of limitations had expired. Switt was never prosecuted for the theft of the coins from the Mint. (more…)

Questions and Truth

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) argued that truth is a value judgement and questioned the premise that truth is always preferable to (or more valuable than) untruth. He also suggested that we should learn from the ancient Sphinx how to ask questions. Should a question always seek the truth as a response? One would normally think so, but what of the case where an untruth is valued more highly by someone than the truth? Is insinuation of an untruth in the form of a question a reflection of values and therefore acceptable? Nevermind, that’s a rhetorical question that has no truth or untruth in the answer.

In a news article headlined “Why are Ancient Coins From Cyprus Featured in a Suit Against the US Department of State?” archaeologist David Gill asks a misleading question. Of course, they are NOT featured in any such lawsuit (at least not yet). This question was posed by Gill in a press release filed through a commercial news service. It ran, as these releases always do, in scores of media outlets that reach a very wide spectrum of society.

Being a news medium, with certain standards of veracity, the reader might expect to find an answer based on truth. Unless, of course, the question is framed with a Nietzschean mindset. In that case, an untruth may be viewed by the author as a perfectly acceptable answer, irrespective of societal norms. The typical reader of a press release is not going to know much about Nietszche or about ancient coins, maybe not even about Cyprus. They definitely will not know much about the U.S. State Department, which is by design one of the most secretive agencies in the U.S. government.

For Gill’s answer to the headline question, the reader is referred to his most current blog posting. But, as a final teaser at the end of his press release Gill asks one more question: “Are these aggressive legal tactics really for the benefit of collectors, or are there other factors at work?” Once again, the reader expects a question to be followed by a truth. Instead, what they are fed is a potpourri of inaccuracies, untruths and insinuations. What poses as an innocent question is really the sort of catty insinuation that one comes to expect in blogs these days, not in the media.

Let me just outline a few specific inaccuracies in the Gill press release and blog. Speaking about the ACCG/IAPN/PNG Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, he writes: “The alliance objected to the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) restricting the import of ancient coins minted in Cyprus as part of a wider memorandum of understanding (MOU).” (more…)

PNG files Amicus brief in 1933 Double Eagles case

1933 Double EagleOn June 5, 2009, the Professional Numismatists Guild filed another Amicus Curiae (“friend of the court”) brief on behalf of a Pennsylvania family’s efforts to get the federal government to return ten 1933 Double Eagles. The PNG brief challenges the government’s claim that the ten gold pieces are not legal tender coins.

Below is an except from that beief along with a link to the full text……………

The Professional Numismatists Guild (“PNG“) is the leading association of rare coin and currency dealers and auction houses in the United States and was incorporated in 1955 as a non-profit organization under section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code. PNG respectfully submits this brief as amicus curiae in opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Concerning the Applicability of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act to the 1933 Double Eagles before this Court. This brief supplements PNG’s prior brief of May 2007 opposing the Government’s earlier Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment.

PNG will focus on the argument made in pages 7-8 of the Government’s Memorandum of Law that the coins at issue in this case are not “monetary instruments” for purposes of 19 U.S.C. § 1607 and therefore not subject to administrative forfeiture for purposes of CAFRA, because they are not “United States coins.” PNG believes strongly that the language of the relevant statutes, when construed in light of (1) other relevant laws and regulations and (2) the Government’s own practice with respect to coins with histories similar to 1933 $20 gold pieces, requires this Court to conclude that the coins in this case are “United States coins” and that their owners are entitled to CAFRA’s protections against summary seizure.

I – WHETHER 1933 DOUBLE EAGLES ARE “UNITED STATES COINS” DOES NOT DEPEND ON WHETHER THEY WERE LEGAL TENDER WHEN THEY WERE MADE

The Government argues (D Memo. p. 8), in reliance on the 1947 decision in United States v. Barnard, 72 F.Supp. 531, 532 (W.D. Tenn. 1947), that 1933 Double Eagles “[were] not, at any time, money or currency,” because the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia never received an order from the Treasury Department authorizing their issuance as such. In doing so, the Government reprises the theme of its earlier Motion to Dismiss in this case (which the Court denied), namely that any coins that purportedly were not “issued” as money are Government property as a matter of law and can be restored to Government control without administrative or judicial process. But Congress and the Treasury Department have made clear that coins “made” by the United States are recognized as capable of private ownership, and therefore subject to due process limitations on Government seizure authority, regardless of whether those coins were “issued” as currency immediately following their minting. (more…)