Insider Pleads Guilty To Theft Of Historic Coins

By January 27, 2012February 21st, 2012Art Security

A square medieval silver coin, minted as emergency currency by Viennese officials as Ottoman Empire troops laid siege to the city in 1529 – during the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I – was among the valuable pieces of vintage money stolen from a Colorado museum in 2007.

Last week an alleged Martinez man pleaded guilty in federal court to stealing rare coinage under his administration as a collections manager at the American Numismatic Association’s (ANA) Edward C. Rochette Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Wyatt Yeager, 33, admitted to stealing approximately 300 historic coins and other numismatic – a term used to describe coins, paper currency and medals – items from the museum while he was collections manager from Jan. to March, 2007.

The purloined items were worth just under a million collectively. According to U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly, III, Yeager allegedly sold one extremely rare coin, a “Holey” Australian dollar minted in 1813, at an Australian auction for $155,755 in July 2007.

ANA President Tom Hallenbeck said in a press release issued last Thursday that coins were discovered to be missing in October 2007, and museum officials quietly called in the FBI.

As the covert federal investigation expanded, Yeager relocated to Ireland and continued to sell off the coins he had stolen in Colorado at various international auctions.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not specify when Yeager was apprehended, but he was charged with a felony violation of Section 668 of the U.S. criminal code’s Title 18 – Theft of Major Artwork.

“The embezzlement of such a large number of rare coins is a significant crime. Aggravating the seriousness of the offense is the fact that the coins are cultural property, a part of our history,” said Oberly in a DOJ case report.

Yeager faces ten years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine. He will also be placed on supervised release after serving his prison time.

ANA spokesperson Jay Beeton described in a press release how, after discovering the theft, the association hired renowned private investigator Robert Wittman, whose consulting company specializes in recovering stolen art and collectibles to track down the missing money. Wittman is credited with founding the FBI’s National Art Crime Team.

“As a result of the theft, the ANA has embarked on an upgrade to its security systems and further modified its internal security procedures. In addition, many of the ANA’s important coins are being encapsulated by [Numismatic Guaranty Corporation] to allow better inventory control through modern bar coding technology, photography and other enhanced security procedures,” explained Beeton.

“The FBI will continue to pursue those who misappropriate rare items such as the coins embezzled by Yeager and appreciates the District of Delaware’s commitment to prosecute this significant crime,” stated Denver-based FBI Special Agent in Charge James Yacone.

“I want to reassure our members – and hobbyists everywhere – that the ANA is committed to improving the security of its collection, which is a true national treasure. As new technologies are developed, we will continually assess our security needs. Unfortunately, about 90 percent of museum thefts have some insider component,” said Hallenbeck in a written statement. “Many of the stolen items were desirable and historically significant. The ANA maintains theft insurance for its numismatic collections, but no amount of insurance can adequately replace these coins – or the loss of trust or sense of helplessness that we all feel following such a theft.”

Other coins stolen from the museum by Yeager and sold at a German auction in 2007 include a “Holey Dollar” five shillings coin and a “Dump” fifteen pence coin, both minted in Australia in 1813; silver and gold Mexican reales and escudo coins minted between 1732 and 1799; English crowns, groats, farthings and pence coins minted between 1652 and 1665, a silver 1557 ‘teston’ coin authorized by Mary Queen of Scots and a silver crown minted in 1551 under English ruler Edward VI.

The ANA is a congressionally-chartered, non-profit organization.

As the ANA states, the Edward C. Rochette Money Museum opened in 1967 and houses a collection of 275,000 items, including “money from its earliest uses 2,600 years ago to individual coins worth millions of dollars and modern issues, as well as paper money, coins, tokens and medals from throughout the world.”

Re-posted from Martinez News Gazette.