Liberty Dollar trial draws little local attention

Two spectators attend; Coin World is only media
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Published : 03/29/11
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Few in Statesville, N.C., it seemed, cared about the federal counterfeiting trial of Bernard Von NotHaus the first two weeks of March.

No media were there except Coin World. There was nobody from the Statesville newspaper, nobody from the Charlotte newspaper, nobody from any web news outlets, wire services, radio or television stations.

Just two spectators showed up at the brick federal courthouse in the center of town to watch von NotHaus, 67, take the stand in the first trial involving counterfeit coins in more than 50 years.

One was Matt Cauley, who lives five hours away in the hamlet of Millboro, Va., population about 4,500. He’s a soil specialist who worked for 12 years in private contract jobs in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Sri Lanka and Indonesia in the 1980s and 1990s.

About 10 years ago, he produced two commemorative pieces to celebrate local events. He had them struck at the Northwest Tacoma Mint in Washington.

“They were mostly tourist mementos,” he said.

For four days, Cauley sat in the far left of the front row. He had first met von NotHaus in 2003 at the Silver Summit in Wallace, Idaho.

“I can’t understand how the government could prosecute when everything was above board and researched,” he said. “Initially the government said no problem. Secret Service and the Federal Reserve said no problem.

“This went from a criminal issue to a political trial. We’re living on borrowed dollars on borrowed time.”

The other spectator was a white-haired man named Bruce from Aberdeen, Miss. He wore a coat and tie to court every day. He considered this “the case of the century” and was disgusted by the empty courtroom. When the guilty verdict was announced at 10:30 a.m. March 18, he angrily rose and left.

Originally expected to last five weeks, the trial was over in just nine days. It took the jury less than 90 minutes to find von NotHaus guilty on all counts involving counterfeiting, possessing and selling his own coins, with intent to defraud.

Von NotHaus had maintained his Liberty Dollars are not coins and were never marketed as coins.

A handful of defense witnesses who had remained for the verdict went to a little bar across the street to vent their confusion, disappointment and frustration.

Hank Lee and his wife were among them. Lee, of Greensboro, N.C., was a Liberty Dollar resource currency officer, hired by von NotHaus to market the Liberty Dollar to merchants in his community.

Hank fears he’ll never see the $1,700 he and his wife invested in Liberty Dollars — silver bullion that was seized by the FBI — but he knows thousands of others invested much more. He’s more shocked by the guilty verdict and the thousands lost by other Liberty Dollar investors.

After lunch, he went back across the street to the courthouse and looked up at the American flag, which flew at half-staff. He saw it as a symbol for von NotHaus.

Von NotHaus, who had remained smiling and peppy and upbeat all week despite nearly two days on the witness stand, had been optimistic Friday morning. The case had gone to the jury late the previous afternoon.

Trying to stay positive

After the verdict, he tried to stay positive, saying he will file an appeal. But his attorney, Randy Lee, said no appeal can be filed until the sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled.

Von NotHaus and his common-law wife of 38 years, Telle Presley, had rented property just outside Statesville to prepare for the trial. They live in Honolulu and have two grown sons. They fully expected von NotHaus to be found not guilty.

Now, free until the sentencing, he could spend 15 years or more in prison and face more than $250,000 in fines.

A few hours after the verdict, Telle stood outside the courthouse in the bright sun and shook her head.

“What will happen?” Telle asked. “It might even be a year until the sentencing. Who knows?”

In 1998, von NotHaus incorporated as the National Organization for the Repeal of the Federal Reserve Act and Internal Revenue Code to manufacture the Liberty Dollar, but in 2007, with the FBI closing in, he dissolved that organization and formed Liberty Dollar Services. He became its executive director.

It is not a corporation, which makes him personally responsible for all the losses.

A forfeiture trial involving what the government says is von NotHaus’ $7 million counterfeiting business began immediately after the verdict was issued and will continue April 4 in Statesville.

The guilty verdict also means that the May trial of three other NORFED employees — William Kevin Innes of Asheville, and two office workers in Evansville, Ind. — will go on. That trio had expected to be tried with von NotHaus, but in January, his trial was suddenly split from theirs and set for March. Von NotHaus said he doesn’t know why.

He said Lee is his fourth attorney, paid for with public funds because von NotHaus lost everything when the FBI seized all of his silver bullion assets, computers and more. His said his first three attorneys wanted him to plea bargain and serve a few years in prison, but he refused to do that, just as he refuses to accept this verdict without an appeal.

Von NotHaus kept an upbeat façade during the two-week trial. He wore neatly pressed khaki pants and sport shirts, not the coat and tie all others — attorneys and others — wore. He joked and seemed relaxed during his two-day testimony, save for the hour or so when he underwent cross-examination by U.S. attorney Jo Rose. Even then, he didn’t crack.

Friday morning, he remained optimistic as the jury debated his case behind closed doors, but the guilty verdict stunned him.

He smiled afterward, but worry wasn’t far away.

“Ninty-five percent” of people in federal cases just cop a plea, he indicated, shaking his head.

Friday afternoon, declared guilty, he stood outside the courthouse in a bright sun and said that producing the Liberty Dollar had been worth it, despite the cost.

“It’s like raising kids,” he said. “You might run into problems,” but are still glad you did it. ■

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