The former president and CEO and the former vault manager of Northwest Territorial Mint, a now-bankrupt company dealing in precious metals, were indicted last week for 20 federal felonies resulting from a Ponzi-like scheme that defrauded customers of millions of dollars.
Bernard Ross Hansen, 57, also known as Ross B. Hansen, and Diane Renee Erdmann, 45, also known as Diane Renee, both of Auburn, appeared in on the indictments on Monday, according to a media release form U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.
Northwest Territorial Mint (NWTM) operated both a custom business that involved the manufacturing of medallions, coins 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.
The indictment alleges that between 2009 and 2017, Hansen and Erdmann defrauded NWTM customers in a variety of ways. Hansen and Erdmann lied about shipping times for bullion, improperly used customer money to expand the business to other states and used customer money to pay their own personal expenses. By at least 2012, 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, more than 3,000 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 million.
In addition to the customer fraud, in April 2016, more than fifty people who stored their bullion with NWTM found all of part of their bullion worth $4.9 million was missing; 20 customers involved in a bullion leasing program were also defrauded of more than $5 million; and a Canadian silver bullion producer was defrauded of more than $1 million in silver bullion.
Between 2012 and 2016, Hansen and Erdmann allegedly took more than $1 million dollars out of the company accounts for their own use, according to the release. During this time frame, they also allegedly transferred $120,000 in cash from the company to Erdmann’s checking account and used $400,000 in company funds to pay their personal credit card bills, the release said. Between March 2016 and June 2017, Erdmann allegedly sold more than $700,000 worth of precious metals, including gold and silver bullion, and used the proceeds for the benefit of herself and Hansen, according to the release.
The indictment charges the pair with ten counts of mail fraud and ten counts of wire fraud. Each of the charges are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case is being investigated by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI). The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Brian Werner.