Precious Metals

Federal grand jury indicts NWT top officials

Ross B. Hansen, founder of Northwest Territorial Mint in Washington state, testifies April 7, 2011, before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology on recommended changes to the U.S. Mint's bullion program.

Photo by Coin World Senior Editor Paul Gilkes.

The founder, and former president and CEO, of the now bankrupt Northwest Territorial Mint in Federal Way, Washington, and the firm’s former vault manager, have both been indicted by a federal grand jury on 10 felony counts each of mail and wire fraud in multiple bullion fraud schemes that allegedly bilked 3,000 customers out of nearly $36 million combined.

The founder, Bernard Ross Hansen, also known as Ross B. Hansen, 57, of Auburn, Washington, and the vault manager, Diane Renee Erdmann, 45, who is also Hansen’s girlfriend, face prison terms, on each count, of up to 20 years upon conviction.

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The indictment was handed down April 12 in United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle, but wasn’t unsealed until April 16 when Hansen and Erdmann made their first court appearance on the criminal charges. Both were released on appearance bonds with terms that, if violated, could subject each of them to up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

One of Northwest Territorial Mint’s affiliates, Medallic Art Company, was once a supplier of blanks to the U.S. Mint for the production of American Eagle silver bullion coins. Northwest Territorial Mint also manufactured the Medal of Honor at one time. 

In 2011, Hansen testified before the House Committee on Financial Services’ Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology Subcommittee on recommended changes in the U.S. Mint’s bullion programs.

Northwest Territorial Mint operated both a custom business that involved manufacturing medallions, rounds, and other awards, and a bullion business that involved selling, buying, exchanging, storing, and leasing gold, silver, and other precious metals. The company maintained offices in Federal Way and Auburn, but declared bankruptcy on April 1, 2016.

According to the unsealed indictment, between 2009 and 2017, Hansen and Erdmann allegedly defrauded customers by lying about shipping times for bullion, improperly using customer money to expand the business to other states, and used customer money to pay their own personal expenses.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, “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, over 3000 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.”

It is also alleged that in April 2016, more than 50 people who stored their bullion in Northwest Territorial Mint’s vaults discovered that all or part of their bullion, worth $4.9 million, was missing; 20 customers involved in a bullion leasing program were also allegedly 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 out of the company’s accounts for their own use. Additionally, the pair is alleged to have transferred approximately $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.

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Between March 2016 and June 2017, according to the indictment, Erdmann 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.

The indictment also alleges that in 2009, Hansen used $2 million in customer money in Northwest Territorial Mint accounts to expand with the purchase of Medallic Art Company. More than $3 million is alleged to have been used by Hansen in 2011 to purchased Graco Awards — a manufacturer of custom medals — in Texas.

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