Mint employee guilty of smuggling $190K of gold in rectum

A former Royal Canadian Mint employee has been found guilty of smuggling $190,000 worth of gold from the building on Sussex Drive — apparently in his rectum — an Ottawa judge ruled Wednesday morning.

Leston Lawrence is expected to be sentenced on Nov. 28

A still image from a surveillance video shows Leston Lawrence being checked by a guard with a handheld metal detector in the security area of the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa on Feb. 2, 2015. The video, along with others, was entered into evidence at Lawrence's trial. (Supplied)

A former Royal Canadian Mint employee has been found guilty of smuggling $190,000 worth of gold from the building on Sussex Drive — apparently in his rectum, an Ottawa judge ruled Wednesday morning.

Leston Lawrence "clearly had the opportunity" to steal the gold because he often worked alone and the security cameras would not have caught him slipping gold pucks into his pocket, Justice Peter Doody ruled.

"His locker contained Vaseline and latex gloves, which could have been used to insert a puck into his rectum," he ruled, adding that there were no cameras in the locker room.

Lawrence set off the mint's walk-through metal detectors more than any other employee without a metal implant — 28 times between December 2014 and March 2015, court heard. But when a secondary check with handheld detectors failed to alert guards to the gold, Lawrence was able to leave with it each time, Doody found.

The handheld detectors are less sensitive than the walk-through detectors, and do not detect metal in body cavities, the ruling detailed.

Lawrence set off the mint's walk-through metal detectors more than any other employee without a metal implant . 0:29

Though there was no video evidence of Lawrence stealing the gold from the mint, Lawrence was found guilty of stealing the 22 pucks from the mint on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, and of laundering 17 of them through Ottawa Gold Buyers (the cheque for an 18th puck never cleared because that puck was seized by police).

The weight of the laundered pucks ranged from 192 to 264 grams apiece and were sold for between $6,800 and $9,500 each in 2014 and 2015. Lawrence made $130,000 from the 17 pucks he sold, which he sent abroad to build a house in Jamaica and buy a boat in Florida, among other transactions.

Lawrence's income was insufficient to purchase the gold he sold, the ruling detailed.

He was also found guilty of possession of property obtained by crime, conveying gold out of the mint, and breach of trust by a public official.

Bank flagged police

Lawrence worked at the mint from July 2008 until March 2015. His job included purifying gold — jewelry, coins and bars purchased by the mint — by melting it, injecting it with chlorine gas and skimming off base metal until the molten gold was 99.5 per cent pure.

Once he believed the molten gold was pure, he was tasked with scooping some out with a ladle, letting it cool and then testing it for purity. He was supposed to return the pucks into the vat of molten gold after testing.

In February 2015, Lawrence cashed two cheques from Ottawa Gold Buyers — one for $7,992.27 and another for $7,269 — at the RBC at Westgate Mall, the ruling detailed. He told the teller the cheques were from "gold nuggets" and that he wanted to transfer the money to help his parents rebuild a house in Jamaica.

When the teller noticed he worked at the mint, the bank notified the RCMP.

RCMP surveillance

Under RCMP surveillance, he was seen visiting the Ottawa Gold Buyers store at Westgate Mall on March 9, 2015.

The RCMP found Lawrence sold a 24-karat gold puck to the store for $7,966.27, and had previously sold 17 similar pucks to the store for a grand total of $138,172.46. But Lawrence only made $130,206.19, because the final cheque for $7,966.27 never cleared.

The RCMP also seized four gold pucks — roughly the diameter of golf balls with a total value of $27,278.84 — from Lawrence's bank safety deposit box on March 11, 2015, the ruling detailed.

Experts analyzed the gold pucks, and found that they matched the purity of gold at the mint. The pucks were identical in diameter to those produced at the mint, and fit the ladle used exclusively by the mint perfectly, Doody's decision detailed.

Lawrence is expected to be sentenced on Nov. 28.

Lawrence makes a gold puck in the mint's chlorination room on Feb. 2, 2015. 0:39

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Leston Lawrence was found guilty of stealing $138,000 worth of gold pucks. He was, in fact, found guilty of stealing 22 gold pucks worth $165,000, and laundering 18 of those, worth $138,000.
    Nov 09, 2016 12:40 PM ET