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Canada man tried for stealing gold from Mint

David MartinSeptember 21, 2016

Leston Lawrence allegedly stole unmarked gold from his place of work, selling it on and depositing the cash in the bank. The defense called the Mint's case circumstantial, saying it couldn't prove any gold was missing.

Taucher finden Israels größten Goldschatz
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Clara Amit/Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

An employee at the Royal Canadian Mint has been accused of stealing 180,000 Canadian dollars ($136,600, 122,000 euros) worth of gold, having gradually smuggled it out by hiding nuggets and coins up his rectum.

The case against Leston Lawrence, 35, concluded in an Ottawa court on Tuesday. The presiding judge, Justice Peter Doody, reserved his decision until November.

Lawrence has been charged for a number of offences, including theft, laundering the proceeds, possession of stolen property and breach of trust.

According to the local newspaper Ottawa Citizen, Lawrence successfully sold 18 unmarked circular chunks of gold, referred to at the Mint as "pucks," and also redeemed a number of gold coins between November 2014 and March 2015. The total value of the theft is conservatively estimated to be around C$180,000 by the prosecution.

The theft allegedly went completely unnoticed by the Canadian Mint, the organization that produces millions of gold coins for the Crown Corporation. It was only discovered by a suspicious bank teller at shopping center in Ottawa where Lawrence was depositing the proceeds.

The teller became suspicious due to the number of Ottawa Gold Buyers checks Lawrence had deposited into his account, as well as his requests to transfer the money abroad. When she realized that Lawrence worked at the Mint, she alerted the bank security.

Authorities soon launched an investigation. Once a search warrant was issued, police searched Lawrence's workplace locker and found a container of the popular lubricant Vaseline, but no gold.

Canada Mint's lax security under the spotlight

The case casts significant doubt over the robustness of the Mint's security procedures. These ineffective security measures form the basis of Lawrence's defense.

"This is the Royal Canadian Mint, your Honor, and one would think they should have the highest security measures imaginable," defense attorney Gary Barnes told the court. "And here the gold is left sitting around in open buckets." Lawrence is accused of helping himself.

The defense also maintained that the Crown was unable to prove conclusively that the gold came from inside the Mint. "In fact, I would submit the Mint doesn't even know if anything is missing," Barnes said.

The Crown's prosecution responded by saying that the pucks perfectly fit into the Mint's custom "dipping spoons," which are used to scoop molten gold in producing the nuggets. The spoons are not commercially available.

Scooping molten gold was one of Lawrence's core duties at the Mint prior to his contract being terminated.

Nevertheless, because the gold Lawrence deposited was unmarked and untraceable, the defense argued that Lawrence could have obtained it legitimately. Barnes described the Crown's case as "appalling" and merely a collection of underwhelming, circumstantial evidence.

The defense's argument could be key if the Mint is unable to prove that it knew of the theft.

Meanwhile, the Mint released a statement on Tuesday, saying it had introduced new technologies to upgrade its security measures.