Judge tells lighthouse lens collector to give up the glass


Howard Schafer oil-on-canvas depicting a lighthouse. Associate Auction image

DETROIT (AP) – A judge has ordered a Michigan man to surrender two antique lighthouse lenses worth at least $600,000, months after the collector lost a court battle with the federal government.

Steve Gronow was supposed to turn them over last summer. U.S. Coast Guard officials and a lens expert recently went to his mansion in Howell, 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Detroit, but weren’t allowed through a gate.

“I have no interest in putting anyone in jail … but my orders are not going to be disobeyed,” U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith said Monday as he gave Gronow until February to produce the lenses.

The government sued Gronow, saying he had no right to lenses from the Spring Point Ledge lighthouse in Maine and the Belle Isle lighthouse in Detroit.

The Maine lighthouse was automated around 1960, and the Detroit lighthouse was replaced in 1930. Gronow bought one lens from a seller on eBay and the other from the Henry County Historical Society in Indiana. The government apparently had lent it to the Indiana group in 1946.

The Coast Guard argued that it still owned the lenses. Goldsmith agreed last spring and gave Gronow a few months to surrender them.

“It is time for the games to end,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Caplan told the judge, seeking approval to use U.S. marshals and “all necessary force.”

Gronow’s attorney, James Pelland, said Gronow wants to be paid for storing the lenses before he gives them up. Goldsmith, however, said that’s a separate matter.

“These essentially were thrown in the trash 70 years ago,” Gronow told the judge. “And after not caring for 75 years, I’m sued.”


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