Excerpts from the E-Sylum: The New York Assay Office Gold Theft of 1978
Each week, CoinWeek, in collaboration with the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, brings you a highlighted feature from the current volume of the E-Sylum eNewsletter.
This week, E-Sylum reader and former head of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and former Executive Director of the American Numismatic Association, Bob Leuver offers an abridged version of a report he filed as a Treasury Department staffer concerning the New York Assay Office Gold Theft of 1978.
MINT THEFT — US ASSAY OFFICE, NYC
Fall of 1978
By: Robert J. Leuver
Office of the Secretary, US Department of Treasury
An employee of the NYC US Assay Office was apprehended stealing a gold cathode weighing about 16 pounds in the Fall of 1978. The culprit allegedly had been doing this for some time. US Mint Director Stella Hackel had been visiting the Assay Office and was anxious to depart at 4:30 pm to catch a flight to D.C. The Assay Office Captain of uniformed security went out from the office where Miss Hackel was to assist and sped the processing of the onrush of employees leaving the facility. That crowded the 8 by 3 check-out table.
The culprit had cleared the end of the eight-hour shift in the electroplating “plant” wherein employees where closeted in the room for the entire work period. Standing 6’4″ and the cathode held high in his morning copy of the New York Times, he towered above the guard with the magnetic wand. However at check out, he laid the paper with the cathode at the end of the table and his wallet and keys in front of the Captain. The Captain quickly processed the wallet and shoved it to the end of the table hitting the NY Times paper. The cathode clattered to the floor.
The employee was held and arrested by the Secret Service. He was arraigned the next morning and pleaded innocent. A known Mafia attorney appeared during arraignment. As the Secret Service agents waited to question the culprit, a bailiff informed the them that the attorney had used cash for the high bail.
Secret Service agents rushed to the employee’s known Soho apartment. They found an apartment outfitted well beyond the means of the employee’s salary. When apprehended a day later, the employee confessed to the theft and stated he had stolen a previous cathode and sold it to an unknown gentlemen, who had been recommended, who sat at the second bench from the entrance of Central Park at 59th and Fifth Avenue, across from the Plaza Hotel.
After the employee was sentenced for a relatively short term, the episode hit the front page of the NY Times, headlined, “Million Dollar Gold Theft at US Assay Office”. W. Michael Blumenthal, Treasury Secretary, directed me, Bob Leuver, to head a team of Secret Service agents and Mint and Office of the Secretary personnel to determine how the theft occurred, how much was actually stolen, and what means needed to be implemented to prevent further thefts.
We determined that:
1) most probably only $250,000 in cathodes was stolen;
2) there were two sets of accounting records for smelting gold-ladened ore;
3) gold dust was being regularly “walked out” in the cuffs of pants of employees as the bottom of the magnetic frame at security checkout was five inches above the floor.
The Secretary publicly announced that only $250,000 in cathodes were stolen and this was so recounted in a buried item in the New York Times. However, the Secretary was concerned about the undetermined amount quite possible stolen as gold dust over many, many years–perhaps as much as 2 million dollars in value.
A weekend in Jan or early Feb 1979, Washington, D.C. was hit by a massive snow storm. We were wrapping up our study. A Secret Service agent and I decided to take a train on Monday afternoon. I wanted to tie up loose ends. I spent the weekend working on a draft of the study. I intended to drop off the study to my secretary Monday morning. The Federal Government was shut down. I bundled my study in my attaché case and worked on the draft on the train.
We checked into a less than satisfactory hotel–but close to our per diem limit of $51 for hotel and meals–just off Times Square in. The Secret Service agent and I went out for a quick bite of food.
Returning, I found my attaché case missing. My Cross pen and pencil I had lain on top of the case were atop the bed spread. I went down to the desk. The head of security tried to put me off until I said, “Call Secret Service Agent … in room …” Attitude change! Six uniformed NYC police came and a platoon of NY Secret Service agents. The police were efficient. As the last one left he said, “Mr. Leuver, welcome to New York.”
The Secret Service agents, except for my companion waited in the hall. After the uniforms left they entered and offered counsel. They said that I was probably trailed from our apartment in Arlington, VA, and on the train. It was lucky that I was accompanied by a Secret Service agent. They reasoned that their prior study indicated that the Mafia orchestrated the Assay thefts or were participants.
The Mafia probably thought my study would implicate them–it didn’t. The Secret Service troop told me to call my wife, Hilda, and tell her to change the locks on the apartment and the car–a Cadillac, but only two months old. My keys were in the attaché case. The apartment people changed the locks within one half hour. Unfortunately, I had to pay to change the locks on the Cadillac, which was done Wednesday morning. People in the D.C. area are very understanding of government issues.
The attaché case was found in Brooklyn on Wednesday morning bereft of contents. My ID tag was on the case and the grandmother of the boy who found it called our apartment. The Secret Service agents investigated, but there was no evidence….
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