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Forfeiture of 1933 gold $20s sought

Trying a new tack, the U.S. government has brought a civil forfeiture suit seeking title to 10 1933 $20 gold pieces from the estate of Israel Switt, the Philadelphia jeweler and part-time coin dealer to whom all known specimens of the coin previously seized by the government in the 1940s were tied by pedigree.

Pursuit of the 10 coins in this manner by the government was required after a July 28 ruling by Philadelphia U.S. District Court Judge Legrome Davis in which the descendants of Switt, his daughter Joan Langbord and her two adult sons, sued the government for failure to return the rarities that they gave to the U.S. Mint to authenticate.

New York litigator Barry Berke argued on behalf of the family before Judge Davis that the Mint should bear the burden of proving that the coin was illegal and could not be privately owned. In a remarkable decision, Judge Davis, agreed.

The new civil forfeiture suit is the government response. It calls for a declaratory judgment that the King Farouk 1933 $20, which sold at auction in 2002 for $7.59 million under a consent agreement between the Mint and another Berke client, London coin dealer Stephen Fenton, to be declared the only legal specimen that can be privately owned.

It is anticipated that there will be months of legal wrangling before resolution, and given the stakes, the inevitable appeals, with the government claiming the coins could not have left the Mint because FDR nationalized gold and banned private gold coin and bullion ownership, and Berke on behalf of the Langbord family claiming that the coins were properly exchanged and entered into the stream of commerce as lawful legal tender. 

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