University News

Med prof pleads guilty to criminal possession of ancient coins

By
Contributing Writer
Monday, September 10, 2012

Correction Appended.

Arnold-Peter Weiss, a hand surgeon and professor of orthopaedics at the Alpert Medical School, pleaded guilty July 3 to charges of criminal possession of ancient Greek coins that were the property of the Italian government. 

Under a plea deal, Weiss must complete 70 hours of community service, give up all 23 coins that were seized from him at the time of arrest and attempt to publish an article on the problem of trading coins with uncertain origins. The University did not respond to repeated email requests for comment.

The article’s purpose will be to “raise needed awareness about unprovenanced coins” and “promote responsible collecting among numismatists,” said Joan Vollero, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, in a statement made outside the courtroom. 

Weiss has been instructed by his attorneys to refrain from comment until after his case has been discharged. The conditions of the plea deal will be set into court record during the official sentencing hearing Sept. 17, according to court records.

Weiss was arrested Jan. 3 at a coin auction at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York after he tried to sell what was thought to be a silver tetradrachm, a Greek coin from the fourth century B.C., at the 40th annual International Numismatic Convention. He bought the coin for $250,000 and tried to sell it for around $350,000, according to the complaint. 

What he did not know was that the coin was actually fake. After his arrest, an expert declared the coins to be forgeries. But the criminal charges still applied since Weiss believed the coins to be real at the time of the arrest, according to court documents.

The forged tetradrachm and two other fake ancient coins – decadrachms – were allegedly found in his possession at the time of his arrest. Authentic versions of these coins are worth approximately $1.2 million apiece. 

Weiss believed that all three coins – purportedly found in Sicily – were authentic and found after 1909, he told a Manhattan court July 3. He acknowledged that he was aware of Italian law at the time.

Under the Italian Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage, all antiquities found in Italy after 1909 are property of Italy. According to the complaint, Weiss was recorded by a confidential informant saying, “There’s no paperwork. I know this is a fresh coin, this was dug up a few years ago. … This was dug up two years ago. I know where this came from.” 

Weiss also told Investigator John Freck of the New York County District Attorney’s Office that the coin was “freshly dug,” according to the complaint. It was therefore property of the Italian government. 

In recent years, Italy has demanded the return of various artifacts taken from the country as a result of looting. Both the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles have agreed to return antiquities looted from Italy. 

A headline in an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Professor Arnold-Peter Weiss pleaded guilty to charges of coins theft. In fact, he pleaded guilty to criminal possession of coins that were the property of the Italian government, but Weiss was not accused of theft. The Herald regrets the error.

3 Comments

  1. Very well written. This should come as an ethical reminder to all of us

  2. Timothy Peacock '12 says:

    It seems misleading to tweet this as “stealing…coins from the Italian Government” It’s not as if he burgled an embassy or defrauded a museum. Trafficking in antiquities is a terrible crime that deprives nations of cultural heritage. Treating it as simple theft both overstates and understates the problem. What Weiss did was not the violent act of theft, but a more subtle and pernicious appropriate of culture.

    Given that we have multiple courses that treat issues of antiquities (I’m looking at you, Illicit Global Economies (it’s not just about weed and coke), the Daily Herald should be more accurate with its headlines and more sophisticated with its reporting.

  3. It’s 140 characters and a headline not a thesis.

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