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FBI arrests Auburn couple sought for skipping sentencing in $30M gold scheme

UPDATED: Tue., May 10, 2022

By Mike Carter Seattle Times

The FBI has arrested a fugitive Auburn couple who fled on the eve of their sentencing last month after being 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.

Seattle FBI spokesperson Steve Bernd said Bernard Ross Hansen, 61, and his partner, 49-year-old Diane Renee Erdmann, were arrested Tuesday afternoon at a motel near Chimacum, outside of Port Townsend, after a hotel employee recognized them from photographs that had been published in the media.

Hansen, president of the mint, and Erdmann, who was a manager of the business, were scheduled to appear April 29 in U.S. District Court after a jury convicted them of mail and wire fraud in a gold bullion scheme that prosecutors say victimized 3,000 investors.

Hansen had been convicted of 14 federal felonies. Erdmann, described in court documents as the mint’s “vault manager,” faced sentencing on 13 counts. They failed to show up for their sentencing hearing, and the FBI issued warrants for their arrests, saying they were traveling in a small car with their dog.

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 couple’s 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.

The 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.

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.

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

The indictment claimed that more than 50 people who had stored their precious metals at the 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.

Federal prosecutors, in sentencing recommendations submitted to the court before the couple’s April sentencing 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 Erdmann to 7 1/2 years in prison.

Hansen has previous convictions for possessing a machine gun and failing to report a financial transaction of more than $10,000. Erdmann does not have a previous criminal record.

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