An employee of the Royal Canadian Mint allegedly smuggled about $180,000 in gold from the fortress-like facility, possibly evading multiple levels of detection with a time-honoured prison trick.
He was suspected to have hidden the precious metal up his bum.
The case against Leston Lawrence, 35, concluded in an Ottawa courtroom Tuesday.
Court was told that, on multiple occasions, Lawrence took small circular chunks of gold — a cookie-sized nugget called a “puck” — to Ottawa Gold Buyers.
Typically, the pucks weighed about 210 grams, or 7.4 ounces, for which he was given cheques in the $6,800 range, depending on fluctuating gold prices, court heard. He then deposited the cheques at the Royal Bank in the same mall.
One day a teller became suspicious at the size and number of Ottawa Gold Buyers cheques being deposited and Lawrence’s request to wire money out of the country. She then noticed on his account profile that he worked at the Mint. The first red flag was up.
Bank security was alerted, then the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which began to investigate. Eventually, a search warrant was obtained and four Mint-style pucks were found in Lawrence’s safety deposit box, court heard.
Records revealed 18 pucks had been sold between Nov. 27, 2014 and March 12, 2015. Together with dozens of gold coins that were redeemed, the total value of the suspected theft was conservatively estimated at $179,015.
But the defence countered with a couple of important points. The Crown was not able to prove conclusively that the gold in Lawrence’s possession actually came from inside the Mint. It had no markings nor, apparently, had any gold been reported missing internally.
The Crown was able to show the pucks precisely fit the Mint’s custom “dipping spoon” made in-house — not available commercially — that is used to scoop molten gold during the production process.
Lawrence, who has since been terminated, was an operator in the refinery section. Among his duties was to scoop gold from buckets so it could be tested for purity, as the Mint prides itself on gold coins above the 99 per cent level.
The great mystery that went unanswered at trial, however, was how the gold got out of the Mint?
Court was told Lawrence set off the metal detector at an exit from the “secure area” with more frequency than any other employee — save those with metal medical implants. When that happened, the procedure was to do a manual search with a hand-held wand, a search that he always passed.
Investigators also found a container of vaseline in his locker and the trial was presented with the prospect that a puck could be concealed in an anal cavity and not be detected by the wand. In preparation for these proceedings, in fact, a security employee actually tested the idea, Barnes said.
Lawrence did not take the stand — as is his legal right — and the Crown was not able to definitively establish how the gold pucks made their way out of the facility.
“We do have compelling evidence,” countered Crown attorney David Friesen, of someone “secreting (gold) on his person and taking it out of the Mint.”
Justice Peter Doody reserved decision until Nov. 9 on a number of smuggling-for-cash charges, including theft, laundering the proceeds of crime, possession of stolen property and breach of trust.