Parish coins hit jackpot

Al Parish leaves general sessions court in Charleston Monday, April 28, after pleading guilty to a state security fraud charge.

It took more than a year, but investigators have finally found some treasure in the crumbled investment empire of Al Parish.

A collection of 52 rare coins is expected to fetch a few hundred thousand dollars of profit, thanks in part to a recent surge in gold and silver prices.

"They are, I believe, the only asset that we're actually going to get more for than Parish paid for them," said David Dantzler, the Atlanta attorney representing the receiver in the case.

The numismatic trove is studded with gems, including a $2.50 gold piece minted in 1805 that is now worth at least $60,000.

Parish, a former economics professor, paid almost $800,000 for the coin cache. Appraisers initially valued the collection at around $525,000, but they now expect it to garner at least $1.2 million when it is sold off in the next six to eight weeks.

"He did good," said Charleston-based art appraiser George Read, who has worked on the Parish case since its beginning 13 months ago. "For once, we don't have to feel disappointed."

The nation's biggest coin dealers have scrambled for the right to auction the trove. In recent weeks, Read and the government-appointed investigators have negotiated with two private collectors, two international dealers and four blue-chip U.S. auction houses. On Tuesday they were close to signing a contract with a yet-to-be-disclosed firm. Read said the would-be seller brings to the table a huge database of collectors and a strong record of Internet sales.

The timing could not be better for the 600 or so investors who lost money in Parish's extended Ponzi scheme. The coin market has historically tracked prices of gold and silver, which are trading near record highs. Since Parish was first charged, the price of an ounce of gold has surged about 37 percent to $853.50. At the same time, silver has spiked 31 percent, with an ounce of the precious metal now commanding $16.47.

Some of the coins in Parish's cache are so rare that their worth moves independent of the so-called "melt value" dictated by commodity markets. These are pieces that are constantly in demand, according to Read.

"Coin collectors tend to fill holes in their collections. If they see something they don't have, they go for it," he said. "In the Parish collection, there are a small handful of coins that are of that status; there just aren't a whole lot of them out there."

Investigators found one of the most valuable coins on the first day of their hunt in April 2007. It was sitting in a bowl of loose change in the closet of Parish's Summerville home. The rest of the booty turned up several weeks later when a California dealer came forward about some $75,000 that she had invested with Parish. The saleswoman, Rosemarie Ingenito, had sold most of the 52-coin collection to Parish, but he had never picked it up.

Another handful of coins was found in a safe-deposit box that Parish rented in Summerville.

"So far there's been little joy, even in our big successes," Read said. "But this will be nice. Some people will be happy."