By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The government on Wednesday won the first round of a battle over the ownership of 10 prized gold coins from the Franklin Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s, now worth an estimated $75 million.
A U.S. District Court jury decided, after five hours of deliberation, that the U.S. Treasury had properly taken possession of the double eagle coins, which a Philadelphia family forfeited after discovering them in the safe deposit box of a deceased family member.
The next step is for the judge who presided over the trial, Legrome Davis, to decide who actually owns them. No date has been set for that ruling.
"I think the lesson is you cannot steal from the U.S. government, hide it for almost 80 years, and then try and profit off of government property," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero, who tried the case.
"It is our duty to go after government property," she said.
Romero said the coins were never legally issued by the government and that somehow the late Israel Switt, a Philadelphia jeweler, ended up with them.
His family alerted authorities after finding the coins in 2003, and went to court to get them back. The coins have been in the government's possession since 2004.
All double eagle coins - some 445,500 were made - were to have been destroyed by 1937. The $20 gold pieces were called double eagles because at that time a $10 coin was called an eagle.
Barry Berke, the family's lawyer, did not immediately return a phone call for comment.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston)