The New York Times reports on an interesting case involving a dispute over the ownership of rare 1933 "Double Eagle" gold coins. See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/us/16coin.html?_r=1&emc=eta1
The Government had refused to return the coins that had been sent for authentication, arguing that they "must be stolen." According to the Government, Mint records say the issue was never formally released, given President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Depression-era orders aimed at taking the U.S. off the gold standard.
In contrast, the claimants maintained that the coins were likely acquired as part of a gold exchange with the Mint.
So far, the claimants have prevailed over the government. According to the New York Times,
A United States District Court judge has given the government until the end of the month either to give back the coins or go back to court to prove that they were in fact stolen by Mr. Switt, a daunting task after three-quarters of a century.
In any event, I understand that in the "old days" it was not uncommon for friendly mint officials to honor personal requests for rare dates from collectors and dealers. One suspects that these officials received some quid pro quo for the favor, but the process was not necessarily considered a corrupt one at the time. (Now, of course, things are different).
Whatever the outcome of this case, I'm glad these coins were rescued from the melting pot-- a fate that most certainly awaited them otherwise.