The former president and a manager of a South King County precious-metals company on Monday pleaded not guilty to 20 felony counts of wire fraud and mail fraud for allegedly running a Ponzi-like scheme that cost customers and investors more than $35 million.
The indictment alleges that Bernard Ross Hansen, the founder and CEO of Northwest Territorial Mint, and his girlfriend and vault manager, Diane Renee Erdmann, bilked more than 3,000 customers out of nearly $25 million and ran two other scams that cost a number of other customers another $10 million.
The indictment was handed up by a grand jury last week and unsealed after Hansen and Erdmann were arrested on Monday.
The 20-page indictment alleges that between 2009 and 2016, Hansen and Erdmann lied about bullion shipments and used customers’ money to expand their personal business and pay expenses.
Northwest Territorial Mint 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.
According to the indictment, by 2012 the mint — which made coins and medallions and bought, sold and stored precious metals — lacked assets to fill 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.
In addition, according to the charges, 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, and two 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.
The government claims that between 2012 and 2016, Hansen, 57, and Erdmann, 45, took more than $1 million from company funds to pay their personal bills. They also used money from the mint to buy office and manufacturer equipment in Nevada, Texas and Hawaii.
In 2008, the state Attorney General’s Office filed a consumer-protection complaint against Northwest Territorial Mint alleging that the company had been misrepresenting the time it would take to fill the orders for some bullion customers. Hansen signed a consent decree that required him to be more clear about shipping times and not to misrepresent delivery dates, status, refunds and what goods the company had available.