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ANA reveals museum theft

After nearly five years and an FBI investigation encompassing five countries, the American Numismatic Association revealed Jan. 12 the theft of coins and other numismatic objects worth $984,740 from its Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The revelation coincided with and was connected to a guilty plea to one felony count made on the same date in Federal District Court in Wilmington, Del., by Wyatt Yeager, the ANA Money Museum’s collections manager from January to March 2007.

Yeager was charged with theft of major artwork, a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 668. His sentencing is scheduled for April 24 at 8 a.m.

Among the U.S. coins taken were a 1795 gold half eagle and an 1836 Gobrecht dollar.

Yeager faces up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervision after release from prison.

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“We couldn’t release anything until he pled guilty,” ANA President Tom Hallenbeck told Numismatic News.

He called it a complex case involving the theft of approximately 300 coins many of these were sold in Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States. Yeager had lived for a time in Ireland as the investigation was proceeding.

Hallenbeck said Yeager had resigned his museum job when there was a suspicion of theft and he immediately left the state, going first to California and then to Ireland.

It was not until October 2007 that ANA staff confirmed that thefts had occurred. “They were looking for specific coins wanted for one of the exhibits,” Hallenbeck said. “The more they dug, the more they realized there was a problem.” He pointed out that this process of confirming that coins were missing occurred when his father, Ken, had been made acting executive director.

The ANA now hopes to be able to get back what was taken.

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“We’re starting the recovery phase,” Tom Hallenbeck said. It will take a while to get the coins back. So far, the ANA has not regained possession of any of the stolen coins. He estimated the length of the recovery process this way: “My guess is months and months, hopefully not years.”

Hallenbeck said the FBI had 32 coins. “We don’t even know which 32 coins they have.”

Lists of the stolen coins appear on the ANA’s website at www.money.org under “Communications” and a drop-down menu item called “Museum Theft.”

Hallenbeck urged anyone who might have information about any of the stolen coins to contact the ANA on its hotline at (719) 482-9841.

In the meantime the ANA will contact auction companies known to have sold the ANA’s coins to aid in tracking them down.

The United States Attorney’s Office of the District of Delaware said in a press release that Yeager sold coins at a Baltimore auction in May 2007, a St. Louis auction in June 2007 and a Melbourne, Australia, auction in July 2007.

One of the coins sold at the Australian sale was an Australian 1813 Holey Dollar that realized $155,755.

Other coins were sold between March and October of 2008 through a German auction house.

ANA hoped to speed up the investigation when it hired Robert Wittman, Inc. Hallenbeck said, “We hired him in October of 2010. Wittman was the founder of the FBI’s National Art Crime Team.

Hallenbeck assured ANA members that the organization was never at financial risk as insurance covered the loss and a payment had been made to ANA.

As far as details of this payment was concerned, Hallenbeck said, “I don’t want to get into that.”

What he would tell members is, “Don’t be disheartened by this loss. It’s devastating, but ANA is on very firm footing.”

An ANA press release stated that museum security systems and procedures are being upgraded.

The most recent value assigned to the entire museum collection is almost $38 million.

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