The alleged gold heist was an inside job — in more ways than one.
The theft of about $140,000 worth of gold ($180,000 in Canadian dollars) came from within the Royal Canadian Mint, investigators said Tuesday. Leston Lawrence, a 35-year-old employee of the government mint in Ottawa, has been accused of foiling the facility’s high security through a back-end exploit:
Lawrence smuggled out gold nuggets inside his rectum, prosecutors alleged.
After a trial that concluded in Ottawa on Tuesday, Lawrence faced “a number of smuggling-for-cash charges, including theft, laundering the proceeds of crime, possession of stolen property and breach of trust,” the Ottawa Citizen reported. Ontario Court of Justice Judge Peter Doody will deliver a decision by Nov. 9.
A suspicious bank teller raised the alarm in 2015. Lawrence sold 18 gold pucks — each a circular 7.4-ounce nugget worth about $6,800 — to an Ottawa Gold Buyers store between Nov. 27, 2014, and March 12, 2015, according to court records obtained by the Toronto Sun. Three observations tipped off the bank teller: Lawrence was a mint employee, he had an unusual number of deposits and he frequently requested overseas transactions.
Alerted by the teller’s red flags, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pursued the tip. Adding to the body of evidence, inspectors said, were four more pucks in Lawrence’s safe-deposit box. Though the pucks were not stamped with identifying markings, the prosecution demonstrated that the nuggets matched a custom scoop the refinery uses to spoon molten gold. They also found a tub of Vaseline in his locker at work. Lawrence was fired in 2015.
In his defense, Lawrence’s lawyer argued the evidence was circumstantial. Lawrence could have purchased the gold legitimately, said Gary Barnes, the defense attorney. Nor had the Royal Canadian Mint reported any missing nuggets. Finally, Barnes pointed out that the mint left gold sitting in open buckets.
“This is the Royal Canadian Mint, your Honour, and one would think they should have the highest security measures imaginable,” the lawyer said, as reported by Ottawa Citizen columnist Kelly Egan, who had followed the case since catching wind of the charges in September 2015.
The Canadian Crown corporation mints coins and houses a refinery as well as a precious-metals storage facility. It was Lawrence’s job, as a refinery worker, to test the purity of the pucks in the buckets.
The mint describes itself as fort-like in its defenses: “The refinery is a restricted environment controlled by security personnel,” according to the mint’s website, “supported by state-of-the-art surveillance technology.”
Prosecutors on behalf of the Canadian Crown, however, said that handheld wands — a secondary measure supplementing metal detectors — may fail to register a nugget tucked between an employee’s buttocks. The Crown argued that Lawrence set off the metal detectors with an atypical frequency, though it was not unusual for employees to trigger the systems. Lawrence was not found with gold on his person during any secondary searches.
Should Lawrence be found guilty, he will join at least two other mint employees convicted of stealing from the Ottawa facility in recent decades. In 1996, a machinist named Richard Gauthier was caught trying to abscond with eight gold bars. A few years earlier, inspectors found gold in the locker of George Allen, a janitor, after he set off a newly installed metal detector. Giving the heist away was a chunk of purloined gold in his underwear.
A representative for the mint told the Ottawa Citizen it has recently installed more cameras and added other upgrades to its security measures.
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