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Laura Sperber Meets with PNG Board to Discuss Coin Doctoring

The Following is taken from Laura Sperber’s Hot Topics concerning her invitation to meet with the Board of Directors of the Professional Numismatists Guild [ www.pngdealers.com ] on June 2nd in Long Beach, CA., to discuss the issue of “Coin Doctoring” in light of the PCGS Lawsuit filed against 6 coin dealers, three of which are PNG Members.

First, I would like to thank the PNG Board of Directors for giving me the opportunity discuss my grievances direct. They seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, however that is where it ends.

To make sure I am not overreacting, I waited until I was back home to write this. Plus, I wanted to see what the PNG press release had to say. Unfortunately my gut instinct was correct.

THE PNG MEETING I ATTENDED WAS A SLOW MOTION TRAINWRECK. EVERYONE ON BOARD HAD THEIR HANDS OVER THEIR EYES.

Even though the board was attentive, they were highly combative. MULTIPLE times they told me they are a REactive group, not a proactive one. They proved to me with out a doubt they do not have a grasp on the situation and no matter what rhetoric they release, they will do very little about it.

The most damning statement they said: “WE HAVE NEVER HAD A COMPLAINT ABOUT COIN DOCTORING FROM ANYONE”. Ok, so in their eyes there had been no problem? Adding to that, they dwelled on the fact “people knew we were here”. Who the heck is going to complain to them? Collectors had to go to the services to be made whole. Besides, according to the PNG, just having an altered coin is proof of nothing. Still, I freak when I think about how no one at the PNG knew there was this horrible abuse happening-some of it created by their own membership. Talk about denial.

They did ask me what I would do about the 3 members in the lawsuit. Of course I said “suspend them”. They hammered back with “we can’t suspend the members in the lawsuit. Its a complaint. There has been no trial, they are not guilty”. Another member said “we’d love to take action, We can not do so on hearsay”. Unless the PNG learns to stop living in fear of being sued by its members and take the actions it should, they will NEVER be able to effectively control them.

The best one was when the board challenged me. They dragged a name of a coin doctor from me acting like they would take action (stupid me). I told them I saw him put putty on a coin at a show. They charged back: What proof do you have? Do you have photos, what solid proof?” One member wanted me to go start my own lawsuit. Give me a break.

Here is the ultimate proof they do not have grasp of the situation: one member said to me: “You sell puttied coins”. My response,: “so do you”. He failed to understand the problem is with coin doctoring. We do NOT intentionally sell puttied coins-ever, nor does he. Its the coin doctors who fraudulently try and get this crap by the grading services who are the problem. They couldn’t even grasp that-one member said “aren’t the grading services supposed to catch this?.

As the meeting went on, I was called a hypocrite yet also was asked to help them. It ended up exactly how I knew it would-they would have a debate to decide the definition of coin doctoring before moving on. I asked them, “being so quick to take NGC’s money as the preferred grading service, why did they not know any of this and why do they have to debate the definition?”. Their state of denial is unbelievable. These guys are dealers, dealers who do shows, dealers who do retail, how the hell can they not know about coin doctoring? In my opinion, this is far worse than a case of selective retention.

They also made it clear to me they can not take any action on non members. I guess I understand that, but as part of consumer protection, shouldn’t they still be working to get ANY bad dealer disciplined in other areas? So they are limited to their own group. For all their claims about consumer protectionism, they have no desire to enforce their claims. This group lives in fear of saying a name or making an accusation and being hit with a lawsuit (which I actually do understand a teeny bit). To me, that seems the most LAME excuse ever. If they are or ever dream of being what they claim to be, show the damn membership real discipline. Make them scared straight and have them stop ruining the coin business. Do not just be a club that harbors thugs and cheats.

My hope is that the PNG board will reinvent it self and remake the entire organization. They MUST become aggressive and PROactive. It is sickening when I look at at least 18 names on their roster who are coin doctors. Even ONE is one name too many. The crack out dealers who are hidden in their are just as bad. If they can not grasp these issues, there is little use for a PNG. I doubt the public will ever attend a PNG day now with out concern as to who they are dealing with. No, not all members are bad, but many are NOT who they claim to be either.

At the Long Beach Show all the defendants walked around like they were wronged. Amazing. In my opinion, these guys deserve to be harassed, obviously they believe they had a right to do the crimes they did. One of them in particular who has a huge ego especially. This dirt bag has been so brazen over the years he would brag about his work and then tell the world what a great numismatic genius he is. He is not in the PCGS lawsuit based on hearsay. The PNG will claim it was helpless to do anything about him because there was no hard proof. He even had the balls to release some kind of statement that he is innocent and will be vindicated. I still feel VERY strongly, that even though nothing has been proven by a court, what they are accused of is so damaging to our hobby, they should be suspended until the verdict is in or the case is settled. To let them operate like normal is a slap in every collectors face. The PNG can risk being sued by them, or end up part of some huge class action lawsuit as more get discovered and collectors finally have had enough of the high end mighty consumer protection BS they proclaim.

Also, I had heard rumors that the defendants were going to band together and do a counter suit. In that suit they were going to do what they are best at: lie. They are going to create fictitious stories about others to try and deflect their pathetic crimes. These guys deserve everything they have coming to them.

I fully encourage ALL collectors to write letters to the editors of COINWORLD, write your thoughts on collector message boards, write the ANA (beware a well known major backer of a notorious coin doctor is running for the ANA board), write anywhere you can to say STOP THE COIN DOCTORS NOW! Let the PNG know they are screwed up, otherwise, they will never know a thing. And of course, support the PCGS lawsuit! We can still self police the hobby and we can clean this mess up.

Here is the exact copy of what I sent to the PNG for its Board meeting;

THE PNG BOARD MEETING JUNE 2, 2010

For public record

Thank you for allowing me to meet with you. As you have seen, I am very vocal about the problems I see in the coin business including issues I see with the PNG that affects non members like my self. This past week a dramatic change has taken place, PCGS filed a complaint against several potential coin doctors. Absent from any support of the suit was the PNG. Sadly included in the suit were THREE of its members. In my opinion, based on the non activity and past non activism regarding coin doctoring, the PNG needs to apologize to the collecting public and take more aggressive steps in the fight on coin doctoring-including stiff penalties for any of its own members found guilty. If the PNG feels this is not an issue of the highest priority and severity, then the PNG in the end (in my opinion) has proven itself to be an accomplice in these horrible acts and should be shut down immediately.

In the first paragraph of your web site, the PNG states: The PNG is a nonprofit organization composed of the world’s top rare coin, paper money and precious metals experts. As numismatic professionals, our primary mission is to make the hobby safe for collectors and investors by maintaining rigid standards of excellence for our member dealers. Further down it is also stated: PNG members are strictly forbidden to sell coins/currency that has been mis-represented in ANY way.

It is my strong opinion NONE of this true. I have sat on the sidelines and watched many PNG members continually break these rules with no shame. The fact that an outside organization (PCGS) had step in and file a complaint against several PNG members this past week further proves my this point. Years ago my business partner George Huang was a member of the PNG. I attended several meetings with him. I never saw anything concrete materialize other than promoting State Quarter boards. The discussions at meetings always went no where. It seemed every meeting was either about some ones petty project or the PNG banquet. Realizing membership was a waste, George quit the PNG. The only reason I could see for being a member was to have a table at PNG days at shows. Due too worthless meetings, an undisciplined membership, and a lack of serious activism, I have lost any desire to be part of this organization. Yet because of the claims made in its advertising, I am here today to bring the PNG to task. The PNG can not go on pretty much lying to the public.

For the past few years as coin doctoring has unquestionably become an epidemic. Every single full time dealer knows it happens. I doubt there is any dealer who does not know of one or two coin doctors. Further, it is widely known there are several big companies who have tried to hide their involvement by hiring coin doctors and calling them “conservationists” or “curators”. Until this lawsuit was filed, it was not hard to find a coin doctor. Yet the PNG has stood silent on this issue. Nothing has bothered me more than this silence while the PNG was aggressively advertising telling the public how great it is and how every member is of the highest ethics. I seriously question if the PNG knew all along it had members who doctored coins and if they tried to avoid the subject. Considering the PNG was so quick to raise money and have an “official grading service” I can’t believe this subject was never discussed.

ANY dealer who doctors a coin is in my mind a criminal The PNG should have the same attitude if it follows its own hype. Coin doctoring ruins coins-PERIOD. These bad dealers are killing well preserved pieces of history. Most coin doctors generally hide behind others and do not see the direct consequences like I do. My business has witnessed multiple instances where a coin had been graded recently and sold to a collector then somehow the coin turned in a few weeks to months because of puttying or some kind of chemical enhancement. Others have had to deal with heads falling off, re-split bands and of course re-cut dates. Also, the most ruthless coin doctors will move metal by laser or using other technical means when possible. How could the PNG not know activities like this were taking place? Most knowledgeable dealers knew.

The PNG seems to be in a constant state of denial. For all the meetings I attended, never once was an issue like this discussed. Also, I had approached several board members I knew (they are now ex board members) , and they said forget about it, it will die a quick death. One also said, they’ll tie it up trying to figure out the meaning of coin doctoring. The fact that the PNG is a total non factor so far in the fight against coin doctors is totally unacceptable especially if the PNG really believes its makes the hobby safer. Coin doctoring is NOT the grading services fault. It is the dealers who do it and then submit to the services. Had the PNG been quick to ferret out these people or make it known they had a zero tolerance, there most likely would be far less a severe problem today.

Typically, when the coin doctors do their damage, its hurts everyone from the grading services, to the retail dealers, to the collectors themselves, and worse the hobbies reputation. Plus, many collectors become angered and leave coin collecting all together.

There is overwhelming evidence that certain members of the PNG are involved in coin doctoring or financing coin doctors. In a recent letter to PCGS over a dispute of a coin PCGS found to be doctored, the writer even states: “In the past I have been commissioned to do work for members of the board of the PNG.” He is clearly trying to justify his doctoring because high ranking members of the PNG had hired him in the past. It is well known that a former board member finances one of the most destructive coin doctors in the business. There are now three PNG member now named in a lawsuit about coin doctoring by PCGS. These are just the bad apples who have been caught. Just looking at the PNG membership rolls, almost on every page there are dealers who either push the grading lines by specializing in “crackouts”, they are coin doctors, or they feel they are innocent when hiring a coin doctor to work on their coins. The PNG clearly has a “wall of silence” in its membership. I am of very strong opinion that even having so much as ONE PNG member be a coin doctor is unexceptable.

If the PNG really wants to act like the mighty protector of the hobby and claim its dealers are of the highest ethical standards, then it needs immediately to adopt no non sense by laws that its members will not intentionally doctor or use coins to defraud the public. Further, it must have a ZERO TOLERANCE about the subject. It is easy to set a standard of what coin doctoring is. Moving metal is the easiest and least controversial for everyone to agree on. The next should be adding a coating via thick chemicals like putty or grease. Any one caught in violation of this by-law should automatically be expelled indefinitely with the suspension made very public. What is wrong with using fear in such a serious matter as coin doctoring? Having this issue caught up in a debate is just another excuse for the PNG to protect its membership and do nothing. This problem is not going to go away by ignoring it. If the PNG does not get its membership under control, the government will have to do it for them or we can all expect a huge class action lawsuit one day by seriously disgruntled collectors.

The PNG’s non action in all of this affects everyone-including me-a non member. I call on the PNG to take immediate action, cleanse its membership of rouge dealers, support PCGS and its lawsuit, and become the organization it claims to be. Until I see dramatic and decisive action by the PNG, I will remain a non member and include discussion of the PNG in my messages about this extremely important subject. However, should the PNG act aggressively and forthright, I will be 100% supportive. I look forward to meeting the board June 3 and discussing this issue further.

Yours Truly,
Laura Sperber

THIS HOT TOPICS IS THE SOLE OPINIONS OF LAURA SPERBER, NOT LEGEND NUMISMATICS.

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