May 2, 2022 - Economy & Business

Seattle area fraudsters on the lam after skipping sentencing hearing

Fugitives Bernard R. Hansen, left, and Diane R. Erdmann, are wanted by the FBI. Photos credit: FBI

Fugitives Bernard Hansen, left, and Diane Erdmann, are wanted by the FBI. Photo courtesy of FBI

A federal judge in Seattle has issued arrest warrants for a Washington couple convicted last year of bilking more than 3,000 customers of over $30 million through an online precious metals firm after they failed to show up to their sentencing hearing Friday.

  • The FBI, which issued wanted posters for the couple, believes they fled their Auburn, Wash., home last week, but still may be in south King County or possibly California.

Why it matters: Bernard Ross Hansen (aka Ross B. Hansen), 60, and Diane Erdmann, 48, each face lengthy prison terms after a jury convicted them last July of more than a dozen felony counts of wire and mail fraud for running the Ponzi-like scheme that sold gold and silver on the internet.

Background: U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Jones last year denied prosecutors' request that Hansen be held while awaiting sentencing.

  • In a sentencing memo last month, prosecutors again unsuccessfully argued Hansen should be remanded to custody while awaiting punishment, saying he "poses a risk of flight and a danger to the community."

Context: The unmarried couple's firm, Northwest Territorial Mint (NWTM), manufactured gold medallions and other items, and bought, sold, exchanged and leased gold, silver and other precious metals until its bankruptcy in 2016.

  • Evidence presented at trial last year showed Hansen and Erdmann lied to and strung along customers waiting for purchased bullion and used customers' money to pay personal expenses and expand the firm into other states.
  • The couple also bamboozled customers who'd paid the firm to keep $4.9 million worth of bullion safely stored in its vaults, which were found empty when inventoried in 2016, court records say.

The latest: Jones issued arrest warrants last Friday after Hansen, NWTM's CEO and president, and Erdmann, its vault manager, were no-shows at their 1:30pm sentencing hearing.

  • Prosecutors were seeking a 90-month sentence for Erdmann and a 15-year term for Hansen, who had previous federal convictions for illegal gun sales and money laundering.

The other side: In a sentencing memo last month, Hansen's attorney Angelo Calfo described his client as a well-intentioned small business owner who "lived modestly, living in a rented home for $1,650 a month, and wearing the same humble jeans and shirts each day."

  • Calfo did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
  • Steve Fogg, Erdmann's lawyer, had no comment.

What they're saying: The fugitives "are most likely traveling in a blue 2005 Mazda MPV, with Washington license plates reading CBN0818," according to the FBI's wanted poster.

  • "They may also be in a tan 2007 Cadillac CTS, with Washington license plates reading ADK0039."
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