PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal appeals court is again weighing the fate of 10 rare gold coins possibly worth $80 million or more that the government says were illegally taken from a Philadelphia mint and wound up in a jeweler's hands.
A lawyer for jeweler Israel Switt's heirs told the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday that authorities gave up any right to the coins when they failed to respond to the family's seized-property claim within 90 days.
The Treasury Department insists 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 the heirs, Joan Langbord and her sons, cannot lawfully own the coins, which she said she found in a family bank deposit box in 2003. The government regained possession of the coins when the family brought them to the Secret Service to be authenticated.
So far in the decade-long battle, both sides have been declared winners.
In 2009, a judge ruled that the government improperly seized the coins and denied the family due process when officials at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia decided to keep them after the family asked that they be authenticated. Two years later, a jury found the seizure had been legal because the coins hadn't been circulated and must therefore have been stolen.
A three-judge appellate court flipped the result again in April, ruling 2-1 in favor of Switt's family.
Federal prosecutors then asked for another shot before the full appeals court, leading to Wednesday's hearing. No timetable for a ruling was given.
The coins are being held at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for safekeeping.
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.
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. Langbord lawyer Barry Berke brokered that deal.
The Langbords offered the government a similar split but were rebuffed.