Mint theft shines light on security woes

A recently terminated employee of the Royal Canadian Mint has been accused of stealing nearly $180,000 worth of gold from the Crown corporation’s Ottawa facility.

Prosecutors claim the accused—35-year-old Barrhaven resident Leston Lawrence—thwarted several layers of security by hiding gold pucks (worth about $6,800 each) inside his anal cavity. The court was told Lawrence brought small, circular chunks of gold, each weighing 210 grams, to Ottawa Gold Buyers in the Westgate Shopping Centre. Records revealed 18 pucks were sold from November 2014-March 2015; combined with dozens of gold coins that were also sold by Lawrence, investigators reached what they describe as a conservative estimate of $179,015.

Prosectors showed the pucks fit the Mint’s custom “dipping spoon,” which is made by the Crown corporation and unavailable commercially; however, because the gold has no markings, and no gold was reported missing by the Mint, prosecutors were unable to conclusively prove the gold in Lawrence’s possession came from the Ottawa facility.

“Appalling,” is how defence lawyer Gary Barnes described the Crown’s case in his closing submission. “This is the Royal Canadian Mint, your honour, and one would think they should have the highest security measures imaginable. … And here the gold is left sitting around in open buckets.”

Barnes noted it wasn’t the Mint which discovered the alleged theft but a Royal Bank teller, who was alarmed by the frequent sizeable deposits and Lawrence’s desire to wire the money outside of Canada.

“In fact, I would submit the Mint doesn’t even know if anything is missing,” added Barnes, who suggested there were many ways the accused could have legitimately obtained the gold.

MINT EMPLOYEE

The teller, whose bank is also located at the Westgate Shopping Centre, noticed Lawrence’s place of employment listed as the Mint and notified Royal Bank security; soon after, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began an investigation.

A search warrant was obtained, and investigators found four pucks that fit the “dipping spoon” in a safety deposit box owned by Lawrence, whose duties included retrieving gold from buckets to test for purity.

Prosecutors said Lawrence set off the metal detector more often than any other employee when leaving the Mint’s secure area (excluding those with metal implants). Each time he set off the metal detector, a manual search was performed using a hand-held wand, although the alleged thief never produced any gold.

Investigators also found more damning evidence in Lawrence’s locker: there sat a container of vaseline, which prosecutors claimed was used to hide the gold within Lawrence’s anal cavity, evading detection from the Mint’s hand-held wand.

Because the accused did not take the stand, the Crown was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt how the gold pucks left 320 Sussex Dr.

COMMON OCCURRENCE

The court heard it’s common for Mint employees to set off the metal detector when leaving secure areas, begging the question: how many of the Mint’s employees are using vaseline to hide gold coins inside their bodies without detection?

Crown attorney David Friesen said there’s “compelling evidence” at least one employee – Leston Lawrence – did exactly this.

Justice Peter Doody will deliver a verdict on a number of charges, including theft; laundering the proceeds of crime; possession of stolen property; and breach of trust, on Nov. 9.

The Ottawa Citizen reports a Mint spokesperson confirmed several security measures, including the installation of high-definition cameras in all areas; an improved ability to track, balance and reconcile precious metals; and the use of “trend analysis technology,” will improve security at the Ottawa facility.

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