Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Five Pieces of Silver

The New York Times
September 22, 2004
Five Pieces of Silver

Opportunists have never stopped crawling over the rubble of Sept. 11, looking to make a buck. Small-time vendors, incapable of shame, began selling T-shirts even before the dust cleared. Other, more sophisticated, examples of that low but indestructible form of life, the 9/11 profiteer, have given their greed a sheen of philanthropy.

Consider the National Collector's Mint. "Silver Recovered From Ground Zero!" reads a fake news release from the company datelined "Thursday, 8:55 A.M." It explains: "You see, when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, a bank vault full of .999 Pure Silver bars was buried under hundreds of tons of debris. After months of salvage work, many of the bars were found." Some of that silver, it says, "has been used to create the magnificent 2004 'Freedom Tower' Silver Dollar." The coins are yours for $19.95 each, plus $7 for shipping, handling, insurance and a "deluxe velvet presentation case." Each one is cheaper if you buy more; the limit is five per customer. "Avoid disappointment and future regret," the ad advises. "ACT NOW!"

Despite the words "One Dollar" and "In God We Trust," the coin is not legal tender. The company calls it a "legally authorized government issue'' dollar, but the government in question is the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a United States possession with no authority to coin its own currency.

If this were merely the work of insensitive pitchmen on a remote Pacific atoll best known for its sweatshops, we might have ignored it. But the president of National Collector's Mint is Avram Freedberg, a prominent businessman in Stamford, Conn., and a donor to Democratic causes. The coins are sold out of an office on Slater Street in Port Chester, N.Y., about 25 miles from ground zero.

Mr. Freedberg's lawyer insists that his client is honoring the dead. He says the company gives $5 from each sale to the Bear Search and Rescue Foundation, a nonprofit group that supports canine rescue units. (It's named for a golden retriever that did heroic work at ground zero.) Capt. Scott Shields, who was Bear's handler, confirms that the company has donated more than $130,000 in cash and products - vital help, he says, for cash-starved units that do important work.

If you agree, you could just send your $19.95 directly to the foundation. You won't get a silver dollar, but you also won't help anyone exploit a tragedy. Avoid disappointment and future regret. Act now!