Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss, a prominent Rhode Island hand surgeon and dealer in ancient coins, pleaded guilty in New York City Tuesday to three counts of attempted criminal possession of ancient coins he believed had been recently looted from Italy.
“Attempted” possession because the coins in the case were not actually looted — nor ancient. In Tuesday’s court hearing, the New York District Attorney’s office revealed that all three coins in the case were in fact modern forgeries.
Weiss was arrested at the Waldorf Astoria hotel on January 3rd while trying to sell ancient coins at the 40th annual New York International Numismatic Convention. According to the criminal complaint, Weiss believed at least one of the coins had been recently looted and smuggled out of Italy. “There’s no paperwork, I know this is a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago,” the complaint quotes Weiss telling a confidential informant. “This was dug up two years ago. I know where this came from.” Weiss told an undercover investigator that he also knew the coins belonged to the government of Italy, which claims state ownership of all antiquities found since 1909.
On Tuesday, Weiss entered a guilty plea to the three misdemeanor counts and was sentenced to 70 hours of community service, which he will serve as a physician treating under-insured patients in Rhode Island. He will pay a $1,000 fine for each of the three coins in the case and forfeit another 23 ancient coins seized from him at the time of his arrest.
The court also required Weiss, the former treasurer of the American Numismatic Society, to write a detailed article in the society’s magazine detailing the widespread practice of dealing in coins with unclear ownership histories. It will describe the corresponding threat to the archaeological record and propose solutions for reforming the coin trade. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said, “Thanks to today’s disposition, the article to be written by the defendant for a coin trade magazine will raise needed awareness about unprovenanced coins, and will promote responsible collecting among numismatists.” We’ve asked Weiss’ attorney for a comment and will post anything we receive.
We were the first to report the details of the criminal complaint here, and have written about Weiss’ ties to the Rhode Island School of Design, where he was board chairman and a prominent donor; to Harvard University Art Museums, where he was a member of the collections commitee from 2006 until his arrest in 2012; and to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where one of his partners at the Swiss coin dealership Nomos AG got his start. We also reported the case had started with federal investigators with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
We’ll have more information about the case and its implications soon.
UPDATE: The DA’s office informs us that the New York Post report that the fake coins would be destroyed is inaccurate. The coins will be preserved and the investigation is on-going.
UPDATE: Paul Barford makes a good case that the fake coins seized by the DA should be retained for future investigations
rather than destroyed, as the court has ordered. [See clarification from DA's office above.] Given the facts of this case, numerous private collectors and museums that did business with Weiss must be wondering how many other ancient coins that passed through his hands could also be forgeries.
UPDATE:Rick St. Hilaire has an interesting analysis of the legal implications of the Weiss case, calling it “a breakthrough for the successful application of state criminal laws, as opposed to federal criminal laws alone, to combat international cultural property trafficking.”
NOTED: Peter Tompa, the numismatist and lobbyist for coin collectors at Cultural Property Observer, has yet to mention the Weiss verdict — or the existence of the case at all. The Ancient Coin Collector’s Guild has not mentioned the verdict either. Paul Barford has a longer list of ancient coin-oriented websites with no mention of the verdict. Why?
NOTED: Larry Rothfield has some good questions about the next steps in what the DA’s office has described as “an on-going investigation.”