Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ancient Greek Coins From Italy Reportedly Seized in New York - Arrest Made

An article appearing in Coin World reports that law enforcement officials on January 3, 2012 seized two ancient Greek coins from Italy before they were sold at a New York International Numismatic Convention event held in Manhattan. The article states that the owner of the coins, Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss, was detained.

New York Criminal Court records reveal that authorities on January 3, 2012 at 2:15 p.m. arrested and charged a man named Arnold Peter C. Weiss, born 1960, with Criminal Possession of Stolen Property (CPSP) valued at over $50,000.  The court set bond in the amount of $200,000 and scheduled the next court date for March 21, 2012.

As of this writing, the NY County District Attorney's Office has not released any official statement confirming that this arrest and charge are related to the coin seizures reported by Coin World. However, Chasing Aphrodite is reporting a connection.

A violation of the CPSP statue, New York Penal Law 165.52, is a class “C” felony punishable by up to a maximum of 15 years in prison. The statute states: "A person is guilty of criminal possession of stolen property in the second degree when he knowingly possesses stolen property, with intent to benefit himself or a person other than an owner thereof or to impede the recovery by an owner thereof, and when the value of the property exceeds fifty thousand dollars.” A person charged with a crime is innocent unless proven guilty by proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Assuming that New York state law is being used to prosecute a theft of ancient coins from Italy, such a prosecution would be new.

At a conference in 2005 and then in a paper in 2007, I argued that state law could be employed in the same way as the federal National Stolen Property Act (NSPA) to tackle international cultural property crime. In an excerpt from the 2007 paper, entitled International Antiquities Trafficking: Theft By Another NameI wrote:
District and county attorneys can rely on receiving stolen property statutes to target culpable receivers and sellers of antiquities .... Every state has enacted a receiving stolen property statute in some form. These laws prohibit a person from receiving property of another when the person knew the property was stolen. Many of these same statutes also criminalize situations where the person should know, had reason to know, had reason to believe, or simply believed that the property was stolen or probably stolen .... While state receiving stolen property laws are fundamentally similar to the federal NSPA, many provide distinct advantages to prosecutors. 
First, several state statutes establish lower mental states. The NSPA requires proof that a person knew the received property was stolen, but several states only require proof that the actor should know, had reason to know, had reason to believe, or simply believed that the property was stolen or probably had been stolen. Thirty six states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws with a lesser mens rea. 
Second, almost one quarter of the states possess some form of dealer provision, making it easier to prosecute antiquities traders. Where a dealer takes possession of an item and either (a) does not reasonably gather information about whether the item was lawfully sold or delivered to the dealer, (b) acquires the item for payment far below reasonable value, or (c) purchases or sells the item outside of the regular course of business, these statutes generally declare that the dealer is presumed to have known that the item was stolen. The New York Penal Law serves as an illustration of scenario “a”: 'A … person in the business of buying, selling or otherwise dealing in property who possesses stolen property is presumed to know that such property was stolen if he obtained it without having ascertained by reasonable inquiry that the person from whom he obtained it had a legal right to possess it (§ 165.55(2)).' 
Third, state receiving stolen property statutes provide criminal penalties for defendants who possess property of most any value as compared with the NSPA’s $5,000 threshold. 
The legal advantages of lower mental states, dealer presumptions, and decreased value thresholds make prosecuting antiquities trafficking under state law an appealing option, particularly when targeting receivers or sellers.

David Gill, Paul Barford, and the Chasing Aphrodite authors are acknowledged for bringing attention to this developing story.