184 F.3d 131 (2nd Cir. 1999), 97-6319, United States v An Antique Platter of Gold

Docket Nº:Docket No. 97-6319
Citation:184 F.3d 131
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. AN ANTIQUE PLATTER OF GOLD, known as a GOLD PHIALE MESOMPHALOS C. 400 B.C., Defendant-in-rem, MICHAEL H. STEINHARDT, Claimant-Appellant, REPUBLIC OF ITALY, Claimant-Appellee.
Case Date:July 12, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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184 F.3d 131 (2nd Cir. 1999)





MICHAEL H. STEINHARDT, Claimant-Appellant,

REPUBLIC OF ITALY, Claimant-Appellee.

Docket No. 97-6319

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 12, 1999

Argued: October 14, 1998

Appeal from a grant of summary judgment by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Barbara S. Jones, Judge) in a civil forfeiture proceeding. Claimant contends that forfeiture of an antique gold platter because of false statements on customs entry forms or because of its status as stolen property under Italian law is not permissible. He also claims that forfeiture would violate the Eighth Amendment. We affirm.

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FREDERICK P. SCHAFFER, Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP, New York, New York (Michael S. Feldberg, Thomas R. Fallati, Carl R. Soller, Soller Shayne & Horn, New York, New York, of counsel), for Claimant-Appellant.

EVAN T. BARR, Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, New York (Mary Jo White, United States Attorney; Gideon A. Schor, Assistant United States Attorney, of counsel), for Plaintiff-Appellee.

STEVEN SKULNIK, Pavia & Harcourt, New York, New York (George M. Pavia, Richard L. Mattiaccio, of counsel), for Claimant-Appellee.

Richard A. Rothman, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, New York, New York (Jonathan Bloom, Richard J. Davis, Josh A. Krevitt, of counsel), for Amici Curiae American Association of Museums, Association of Art Museum Directors, Association of Science Museum Directors, American Association for State and Local History.

Leonard V. Quigley, General Counsel, Archaelogical Institute of America, Boston, Massachusetts (Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul University School of Law, Chicago, Illinois, Gregory A. Clarick, of counsel), for Amici Curiae Archaelogical Institute of America, American Anthropological Association, United States Committee for the International Council on Monuments and Sites, Society for American Archaeology, American Philological Association, and Society for Historical Archaeology.

Before: WINTER, Chief Judge, RESTANI,[*]. Judge, and MUKASEY,[**]. District Judge.[***].

WINTER, Chief Judge:

Michael H. Steinhardt appeals from Judge Jones's ordering of the forfeiture of a "Phiale," an antique gold platter. The district court held that false statements on the customs entry forms and the Phiale's status as stolen property under Italian law

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rendered its importation illegal. As such, the Phiale was subject to forfeiture.

Steinhardt contends that: (i) the false statements on the customs forms were not material under 18 U.S.C. § 542, (ii) stolen property under the National Stolen Property Act ("NSPA") does not encompass property presumed to belong to the state under Italian patrimony laws, (iii) both statutes afford him an innocent owner defense, and (iv) the forfeiture violates the Eighth Amendment. We hold that the false statements on the customs forms were material and, therefore, need not reach issue (ii). We further hold that there is no innocent owner defense and that forfeiture of the Phiale does not violate the Eighth Amendment.


At issue is a Phiale of Sicilian origin that dates from the 4th Century B.C. Its provenance since then is largely unknown, other than its possession by Vincenzo Pappalardo, a private antique collector living in Sicily, who traded it in 1980 to Vincenzo Cammarata, a Sicilian coin dealer and art collector, for art works worth about $20,000. Cammarata sold it in 1991 to William Veres, the owner of Stedron, a Zurich art dealership, for objects worth about $90,000.

Veres brought the Phiale to the attention of Robert Haber, an art dealer from New York and owner of Robert Haber & Company. In November 1991, Haber traveled to Sicily to meet with Veres and examine the Phiale. Haber informed Steinhardt, a client with whom he had engaged in 20-30 previous transactions, of the piece. Haber told Steinhardt that the Phiale was a twin to a piece in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and that a Sicilian coin dealer (presumably Cammarata) was willing to guarantee the piece's authenticity.

On December 4, 1991, Haber, acting for Steinhardt, finalized an agreement to purchase the Phiale for slightly more than $1 million -- plus a 15% commission, making the total price paid by Steinhardt approximately $1.2 million. Haber and Veres also agreed to a "Terms of Sale," which stated, inter alia, that "[i]f the object is confiscated or impounded by customs agents or a claim is made by any country or governmental agency whatsoever, full compensation will be made immediately to the purchaser." It further provided that a "letter is to be written by Dr. [Giacomo] Manganaro that he saw the object 15 years ago in Switz."1. In fact, Dr. Manganaro, a professor of Greek history and Numismatics, had examined the Phiale in 1980 in Sicily and had determined thereafter that it was authentic and of Sicilian origin.

On December 10, 1991, Haber flew from New York to Zurich, Switzerland, and then proceeded to Lugano, near the Italian border, where he took possession of the Phiale on December 12. The transfer was confirmed by a commercial invoice issued by Stedron, describing the object as "ONE GOLD BOWL--CLASSICAL . . . DATE--C. 450 B.C. . . . . VALUE U.S. $250,000." The next day, Haber sent a fax to Jet Air Service, Inc. ("Jet Air"), Haber's customs broker at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, which included a copy of the commercial invoice. Jet Air prepared an Entry/Immediate Delivery form (Customs Form 3461) to obtain release of the Phiale prior to formal entry. This form listed the Phiale's country of origin as "CH," the code for Switzerland. In addition, Jet Air prepared an Entry Summary form (Customs Form 7501), which also listed the country of origin as "CH" and stated the Phiale's value at $250,000, as Haber's fax had indicated. Haber was listed as the importer of record.

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On December 15, Haber returned to the United States from Zurich with the Phiale and later gave it to Steinhardt.2. Before completing the purchase, Steinhardt had the piece authenticated through a detailed examination by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thereafter, the Phiale was displayed in his home from 1992 until 1995.

Under Article 44 of Italy's law of June 1, 1939, an archaeological item is presumed to belong to the state unless its possessor can show private ownership prior to 1902. On February 16, 1995, the Italian government submitted a Letters Rogatory Request to the United States seeking assistance in investigating the circumstances of the Phiale's exportation and asking our government to confiscate it so that it could be returned to Italy. In November 1995, the Phiale was seized from Steinhardt pursuant to a warrant. Soon thereafter the United States filed the present in rem civil forfeiture action. The government claimed that forfeiture was proper under 18 U.S.C. § 545 because of false statements on the customs forms. It also claimed that forfeiture was proper under 19 U.S.C. § 1595a(c) because the Phiale was stolen property under the NSPA as a result of Article 44 of Italy's patrimony laws.

Steinhardt entered the proceeding as a claimant, and he and the government moved for summary judgment. In granting judgment for the government, see United States v. An Antique Platter of Gold, 991 F.Supp. 222 (S.D.N.Y. 1997), the district court held that the misstatement of the country of origin was material, see id. at 228-30, and, alternatively, that the Phiale was stolen property under Italian law, see id. at 231-32. The court also held that an innocent owner defense was not available under either statute, see id. at 230-32, and that the forfeiture did not violate the Excessive Fines Clause, see id. at 232-33. This appeal followed.


We review the grant of summary judgment de novo. See Bedoya v. Coughlin, 91 F.3d 349...

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