Pair who went on the run after being found guilty of fraud at a now defunct precious metals firm, sentenced to prison
Defrauded 3,000 customers of more than $30 million
Seattle –The former President & CEO of Northwest Territorial Mint, a now-bankrupt company dealing in precious metals, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 11 years in prison for 14 federal felonies resulting from a Ponzi-like scheme that defrauded customers of millions of dollars, announced U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. Bernard Ross Hansen, 61, aka Ross B. Hansen was convicted of multiple counts of wire and mail fraud after a four-week jury trial in July 2021. Hansen’s co-defendant and partner, Vault Manager Diane Renee Erdmann, 49, was convicted of 13 counts of wire fraud and mail fraud. She was sentenced to five years in prison. This was the second scheduled sentencing hearing for the two after they failed to show up for their late April court date and attempted to flee.
At the sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones said, “The entire means of operation was nothing more than a fiction…. You were a wrecking ball building your empire. (The victims) trusted you and had faith in the snake oil you were selling; that faith was met with manipulation and deceit.”
“Mr. Hansen and Ms. Erdman defrauded more than 3,000 people of some $30 million – money that represents the victims’ plans and dreams: retirement, college funds, and inheritances,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “It is heartbreaking to hear how the fraud upended their lives and left them working longer, harder, and in deep stress to try to recover. The impact of this fraud goes beyond the significant dollar figure.”
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 to pay their own personal expenses. As a result, 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 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.
Writing to the court, prosecutors pointed out the deception against the storage customers: “Mr. Hansen talked (the storage customers) into paying NWTM to steal from them—forking over fees, sometimes thousands of dollars’ worth, to “securely” store their bullion at NWTM, only to have the defendants use the vault as a company piggy bank. Mr. Hansen collected those fees and delivered phony storage account statements in return. But unbeknownst to the storage customers, Mr. Hansen used the storage customers’ bullion as his own – pulling it off the shelf to fulfill other orders, at times even melting down customers’ property to makes something else to ship somewhere else.”
“Company president Hansen apparently did not learn his lesson from his last trip to prison,” said Donald M. Voiret, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Seattle Field Office. “Together, Hansen and his co-conspirator Ms. Erdmann stole decades of savings and financial security from thousands of victims who thought they were making safe investments for themselves and their loved ones.”
Prosecutors increased their sentencing recommendations for both Hansen and Erdmann to reflect the 11-day manhunt that followed their failure to appear. When arrested in the small town of Port Hadlock on the Olympic Peninsula, they had three loaded firearms in a box behind the drivers’ seat of their car. In supplemental sentencing memos, prosecutors urged the court to increase both defendants’ prison time due to their flight to avoid prison. “Ms. Erdmann and Mr. Hansen acquired a new vehicle, armed themselves with three loaded guns, and evaded supervision. Ms. Erdmann’s conduct shows a lack of respect for the Court and the law enforcement authorities that she knew would attempt to find her.” And of Hansen they wrote, “Recent events have shown that Mr. Hansen also presents a danger of violence. When he was apprehended by law enforcement in Port Hadlock, he was traveling with three loaded firearms in reaching distance of the front seat of his vehicle.”
Judge Jones ordered Hansen to pay $33.7 million in restitution. Erdmann is to pay $32.1 million in restitution.
The case was investigated by the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Brian Werner and Benjamin Diggs.