The Auburn couple who operated Northwest Territorial Mint have been sentenced to prison for defrauding 3,000 customers of more than $30 million, according to the Department of Justice.
Bernard Ross Hansen, the former President and CEO of Northwest Territorial Mint, a company that dealt in precious metals, was sentenced to 11 years in prison, according to the Department of Justice.
Hansen, now 61, was convicted on 14 federal felonies stemming from the Ponzi scheme he operated through Northwest Territorial Mint, according to Department of Justice records.
Hansen’s co-defendant and partner, Diane Renee Erdmann, 49, who worked as the vault manager for Northwest Territorial Mint, was sentenced to five years in prison for her role in the Ponzi scheme. Erdmann was convicted on 13 counts of mail and wire fraud stemming from their scheme, according to the Department of Justice.
Northwest Territorial Mint had offices in Auburn and Federal Way that bought, sold, traded, stored and leased precious metals for its customers and made customized medallions and other awards. The company declared bankruptcy in April 2016, records state.
“Mr. Hansen and Ms. Erdmann defrauded more than 3,000 people of some $30 million — money that represents the victims’ plans and dreams: retirement, college funds, and inheritances,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “It is heartbreaking to hear how the fraud upended their lives and left them working longer, harder, and in deep stress to try to recover. The impact of this fraud goes beyond the significant dollar figure.”
Hansen and Erdmann defrauded their customers by lying about shipping times, then using customers’ precious metals to cover personal expenses and to expand their business, the Department of Justice records state. In classic Ponzi scheme form, when a customer asked for their precious metals back, Hansen and Erdmann would pay that customer off with the precious metals that belonged to a new customer.
In addition to this, Hansen and Erdmann defrauded customers who paid Northwest Territorial Mint to securely store their precious metals. When inventory was taken of the Northwest Territorial Mint vaults in 2016, nearly $5 million in precious metals that belonged to over 50 customers was missing.
Those customers had paid Northwest Territorial Mint sometimes thousands of dollars to safely store their precious metals, Department of Justice records say. In reality, Hansen and Erdmann were using that money to expand their business and for personal expenses.
Prosecutors increased the requested prison sentences for Erdmann and Hansen after the two skipped town just before their sentencing date in May 2022. The couple was on the run from law enforcement for 11 days before being apprehended by FBI agents in Port Hadlock, Washington.
When FBI agents arrested the pair, they had three loaded guns behind the driver’s seat of their car, Department of Justice records state.
The pair was ordered to pay a total of more than $60 million in restitution, according to the Department of Justice.