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Collectors Flip Over Cache of Cocaine-Tainted Rare Coins, Gold

Times Staff Writer

Thomas Dolan is a federal drug agent who admits to a heavy addiction to coin collecting. He specializes in what he can afford, he said, mostly silver dollars in the $100 to $200 range.

So the day he helped recover a cache of rare American coins and gold bullion--the buried profits of a cocaine ring, part of a total of $2.9 million dug up from a Denver suburb, a Hawaiian beach and a Nebraska wood--was doubly satisfying, Dolan said.

“To a coin collector, handling those coins is a great thing to do,” Dolan said Friday. “It’s like looking at Playboy: You can look but you can’t own.”

Dolan’s excitement over the treasure is shared by collectors throughout the country, who are eagerly awaiting auctions in Long Beach and Dallas in which the government will dispose of the stash.

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1933 Gold Piece

The crown jewel in the group is a 1933 Indian-head $10 gold piece. The coin was one of 300,000 that were minted in 1933 but that were never distributed because Congress decided to recall all gold coins, ending private ownership. Today, no more than 40 of the coins are known to exist, according to Leonard Albrecht, an executive with the American Numismatics Assn. in Colorado Springs.

“There are other auctions that would easily outdo this as far as volume or total value,” Albrecht said. “But a number of pieces that will appear at the auction are of the scarce to rare, seldom-on-the-market varieties. The event is generating a massive amount of interest.”

Valuable Proof

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Also to be auctioned is an 1879 $4 gold Stella, proof 62, valued at about $35,000 and first struck to compete with European coins of similar denomination, such as the English sovereign. Only 415 of the coins were minted. Stella--star in Latin--refers to the star motif in the design.

“The Stella and the Indian are specially worth going after. It’s a significant offering,” said William Bischof, a curator of the American Numismatic Society.

Hundreds of the coins were found after U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents smashed a drug ring centered in Denver with active operations in San Diego. Four men have been charged as heads of the ring, which smuggled hundreds of pounds of cocaine annually into the United States beginning in the late 1970s, using a private fleet of planes and secret landing strips.

Crude Maps Discovered

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In breaking up the operation, agents raided a home on Maui, where they found three crude, hand-drawn maps.

One led to a briefcase buried on an island beach, containing coins. To follow the second map, agents traveled to property one of the suspects owned in Nebraska. They matched the map with the terrain and dug up more than $1 million in bullion and coins.

The third find was in a Denver suburb, where Dolan found the remaining coins.

The auctioneer, Michael Haynes of Dallas, is excited at the prospect of selling the 938 coins. The first auction will be at the Long Beach Coin and Stamp Exposition at the Convention Center Sept. 30-Oct. 1, with the second in Dallas in December.

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