Seattle – The former President & CEO of Northwest Territorial Mint, a now-bankrupt company dealing in precious metals, was convicted today in U.S. District Court in Seattle of 14 federal felonies resulting from a Ponzi-like scheme that defrauded customers of millions of dollars, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman. After more than three weeks of testimony and evidence, the jury deliberated about two days before convicting Bernard Ross Hansen, 60, aka Ross B. Hansen of multiple counts of wire and mail fraud. The jury also convicted Vault Manager Diane Renee Erdmann, 48, of 13 counts of wire fraud and mail fraud following the trial. Sentencing for both Mr. Hansen and Ms. Erdmann is scheduled for October 29, 2021.
Northwest Territorial Mint (NWTM) operated both a custom business that involved the manufacturing of medallions and other awards, and a bullion business that involved the selling, buying, exchanging, storing, and leasing of gold, silver, and other precious metals. The company had offices in Federal Way and Auburn, Washington, but declared bankruptcy on April 1, 2016.
According to records in the case and testimony at trial, Hansen and Erdmann defrauded NWTM customers in a variety of ways. The evidence at trial showed that Hansen and Erdmann lied about shipping times for bullion, used customer money to expand the business to other states, and used customer money to pay their own personal expenses. In this way the company lacked enough assets to fulfill customer orders and used new customer money to pay off older customers in a Ponzi-like scheme. In total, over 2500 customers paid for orders, or made bullion sales or exchanges, that were either never fulfilled or never refunded. The total loss to these customers was more than $25,000,000.
In closing arguments, Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Diggs told the jury “They tried to make this company look solid – like the metals they sold – but in fact it was a house of cards.”
In addition to the bullion customer fraud, the evidence at trial demonstrated that Hansen and Erdmann defrauded customers who paid NWTM to safely and securely store bullion in the NWTM vaults. Evidence and testimony at trial showed that Hansen and Erdmann used this bullion that was supposed to be in secure storage to fulfill other orders. In April 2016, the NWTM vaults were inventoried and all or part of the stored bullion for more than 50 customers was missing. The missing bullion was worth more than $4.9 million.
Each of the counts of conviction are punishable by up to 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones will determine the appropriate sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The case was investigated by the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Brian Werner and Benjamin Diggs.
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@usdoj.gov.