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FBI searching for Auburn couple, convicted in $30 million fraud scheme, who skipped court date

By Mike Carter, The Seattle Times
Published: May 4, 2022, 7:14am

Arrest warrants have been issued for a couple convicted of operating a Ponzi-like scheme through the now-bankrupt Northwest Territorial Mint in Federal Way, defrauding thousands of investors out of more than $30 million.

Former Mint President Bernard Ross Hansen, 61, and his partner, Diane Renee Erdmann, were to be sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court after being convicted last year of mail and wire fraud in a gold bullion scheme that prosecutors say left 3,000 victims in its wake.

A jury, after two days of deliberations, convicted Hansen of 14 federal felony counts of mail and wire fraud. The panel also convicted Hansen’s “vault manager” and girlfriend, Diane Renee Erdmann, 49, of 13 felony fraud counts.

At the time Hansen was convicted, federal prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Richard Jones to remand him into custody, calling him a danger to the community and out of concerns that he might contact witnesses and victims. He also has previous convictions for possessing a machine gun and failing to report a financial transaction of more than $10,000. But the judge denied the motion and allowed Hansen to remain free until his sentencing.

A grand jury indicted Hansen and Erdmann in 2018 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 hit with a record $38.3 million civil verdict in a defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit brought in Nevada by a Los Angeles businessman.

Hansen’s defense attorney, Angelo Calfo, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Tuesday. However, in a brief submitted before trial, Calfo said the couple should be acquitted because they lacked fraudulent intent.

The Mint — which made coins and medallions and bought, sold and stored precious metals — by 2012 didn’t have enough assets to cover customer orders, according to the indictment. Prosecutors allege Hansen and Erdmann started using the investments from new customers to pay money owed to older customers in an illegal Ponzi-like scheme.

In a defense sentencing memorandum filed last month, Calfo argued that Hansen lived a humble lifestyle and was motivated not by greed, but by responsibility. Despite operating a multimillion dollar company, Calfo said Hansen lived in a modest home and wore “the same humble shirts and jeans each day.”

“If Mr. Hansen were a greedy man, he could easily have done better for himself,” Calfo wrote. “Mr. Hansen, unlike most fraud defendants, was not motivated by personal greed. He instead just wanted his company to succeed.”

The indictment claimed that more than 50 people who had stored their precious metals at the Northwest Territorial Mint’s Federal Way and Auburn offices 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.

The indictment also alleges Hansen and Erdmann stole $1 million more from a Canadian silver-bullion producer.

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“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 during the trial.

Federal prosecutors, in sentencing recommendations submitted to the court before Monday’s hearing, had recommended that Hansen serve at least 15 years in prison and be ordered to pay $33 million in restitution. Prosecutors planned to ask the judge to sentence Erdman to 7 1/2 years in prison.

The couple disappeared from their Auburn home sometime around April 29 and are believed to be driving a blue 2005 Mazda MPV, according to the FBI.

The agency said the couple were last seen May 1 checking out of a Federal Way hotel and are traveling with a Cardigan Welsh corgi dog and paying for expenses with cash.