The former president and a manager of the now-bankrupt Northwest Territorial Mint in Federal Way, accused of operating a Ponzi-like scheme that defrauded thousands of investors out of more than $25 million, have been convicted of mail and wire fraud after a two-week trial in U.S. District Court.
A jury, after two days of deliberations, convicted mint owner Bernard Ross Hansen, 60, of 14 federal felony counts of mail and wire fraud, each of which carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The panel also convicted Hansen’s “vault manager” and girlfriend, Diane Renee Erdmann, 48, of 13 felony fraud counts.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones set sentencing for the pair for Oct. 29.
Hansen and Erdmann were indicted in 2018 by a grand jury on charges that alleged the pair lied about gold and silver bullion shipments while using investors’ money for personal luxuries and expenses and to expand their business and draw in new victims.
Northwest Territorial Mint, which also had offices in Auburn, sought bankruptcy protection in 2016 after Hansen and the company were each hit with multimillion-dollar jury verdicts in a defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit brought in Nevada by a Los Angeles businessman.
An email message seeking comment from Hansen and Erdmann’s defense attorneys, Angelo Calfo and Patty Eakes, was not returned Monday afternoon. However, in a brief submitted before trial, the defense said the couple should be acquitted because they lacked fraudulent intent.
According to the indictment, by 2012 the mint — which made coins and medallions and bought, sold and stored precious metals — didn’t have enough assets to cover customer orders, and federal prosecutors allege they started using the investments from new customers to pay money owed to older customers in an illegal Ponzi-like scheme.
The indictment also claimed that more than 50 people who had stored their precious metals at the Northwest Territorial Mint’s offices in Federal Way and Auburn found $4.9 million in bullion missing. Twenty customers involved in a “bullion-leasing program” were defrauded of an additional $5 million, according to the indictment. Finally, the indictment alleges Hansen and Erdmann stole $1 million more from a Canadian silver-bullion producer.
“They tried to make this company look solid — like the metals they sold — but in fact it was a house of cards,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Diggs told the jury in closing arguments last week, according to a news release.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the couple was convicted of mail and tax fraud. It was mail and wire fraud. It also misstated the number of individuals bilked in the bullion scheme. It was 20, not two.