The opinion of the court was delivered by: ZAMPANO
In this case, tried to the Court without a jury, the defendants were charged with mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. § 1341,
fraud committed through interstate communication by wire, 18 U.S.C. § 1343,
fraudulent possession and sale of altered coins, 18 U.S.C. § 331,
and conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. § 371.
During the seven day trial, the Court heard the testimony of fifteen government witnesses and six defense witnesses. Numerous exhibits, photographs and slides, as well as movies of the coin minting process, were introduced. The defendants did not testify.
Counts 1 through 27 of the indictment charge both defendants with knowingly devising a scheme to defraud coin collectors and dealers by inducing them to purchase certain 1964 one-cent coins which had been fraudulently altered to appear to be legitimate "mint errors". The defendants used the mails to insert advertisements in the New York Times, offering the altered coins for sale for more than $25 each.
Counts 28 through 34 charge both defendants with sending certain letters, teletypes and telegrams in order to promote and execute their fraudulent scheme. Count 35 alleges defendant Piacentile, also known as Pease, sold approximately ten of the altered coins to interested purchasers, and count 36 charges defendant Sheiner with a similar crime. Count 38 is the fraudulent possession count against Sheiner alone while count 39 alleges that both defendants conspired to commit the violations described in the other counts.
The Court finds from the uncontroverted testimony and the stipulations entered into between counsel that the government proved beyond a reasonable doubt all the material allegations in each count of the indictment relating to the defendants' possession of the coins in question, their sale of the coins to interested collectors and dealers, and their use of the mails and interstate wires to advertise and promote the sale of the coins to the public.
The primary issues remaining are 1) were the coins fraudulently altered, and 2) if so, did either one or both of the defendants possess the requisite knowledge and fraudulent intent necessary to sustain a conviction under the statutes.
ADVERTISING AND SALE OF THE COINS
In April, 1965, Piacentile began selling certain 1964 multi-struck, one-cent coins to interested collectors and dealers. These coins had a multiple image of Lincoln's face on the obverse side of the coin. On most coins there appeared also a double impression of the date "1964" and the word "Liberty". The back of each coin contained a bulge in the metal, but there were no multiple images thereon. The selling price of these coins at this time was $400 for a roll of fifty pennies, with a "money back guarantee" if "they were proven to be otherwise" than as represented. Several of the early purchasers had the coins checked by other collectors and dealers to determine whether or not the coins were authentic Mint errors. At least one purchaser returned the coins to Piacentile, who refunded the purchase price without objection.
In early May, 1965, Piacentile approached Sheiner, the owner of a retail coin shop known as Bronx Coins, to determine whether Sheiner would help him dispose of the coins. After an inspection of the coins, Sheiner agreed. A few days later, Sheiner gave some coins to a local dealer who, after examining them, referred the matter to the Secret Service. The federal agency's interest in the coins provoked controversy among coin collectors as to their authenticity. In an attempt to settle the dispute, Sheiner conducted a coin show on May 23, 1965, in the Henry Hudson Hotel, advertising the event in the New York Times of May 18, 1965, in part as follows:
1964-P Multiple Struck Cent
Authentic - Beautiful - Unusual - ...