Wednesday September 21, 2016

Did a Royal Canadian Mint employee use his butt to smuggle out gold nuggets the size of small muffins?

The Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa / gold bars

The Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa / gold bars (mint.ca / Sebastian Derungs AFP-Getty Images)

Listen 6:31

A Royal Canadian Mint employee is on trial this week in Ottawa for allegedly smuggling $180,000 worth of gold from work in an unusual manner.

Leston Lawrence is accused of hiding gold nuggets in his rectum to get by security at The Mint. He's facing charges of theft, laundering, possession of stolen property, and breach of trust.

Kelly Egan is covering the case for The Ottawa Citizen.

He tells As It Happens host Carol Off that, when he first heard about this case last year, he could not believe his ears.

Royal Canadian Mint employee alleged smuggler

Kelly Egan, journalist with the Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa Citizen)

KELLY EGAN: It was a shocker, for sure. But the rumour around The Mint back then was that he had put the gold in his rectum and gone through the metal detector . . . and that later he had sold the gold.

CAROL OFF: Now that there's been some testimony this week and you've seen what the evidence is -- what exactly happened, how did he do this? 

 "[The nuggets] are about the size of a small muffin. And I've been told that the circumference is about the size of a toonie." - Kelly Egan, Ottawa Citizen reporter

KE: To this day The Mint is not exactly sure. What they do know is that everybody who works in this area has to go through fairly sophisticated metal detectors. So the theory that they're working on is that there's only one way this employee could get that gold out and that was smuggled in some kind of body cavity. And when you see the size of the nuggets or the "pucks," as they call them -- the only conclusion they came to is that they had to be in his rectum.

CO: Do they have evidence to show that's what he did or is that just some sort of guess work on how that's how he probably did it? 

KE: They do have some evidence. They know that the man in question set-off the metal detector more times than any other employee. When that happens the employee is subject to a secondary search with a hand-held wand. And on all those occasions he passed the secondary test. But in retrospect the Crown is saying that all of these red flags that went off with the detector point to their theory..

CO: How big are these gold "pucks"?

"[The security people] actually tested this [rectum theory] on a human being. And that when that person went through the metal detector, it went off. But when the person was given the secondary wand test, it didn't go off." - Kelly Egan

KE: The way they've been described to me is that they're about the size of a small muffin. And I've been told that the circumference is about the size of a toonie. The top of it is kind of nubbly. It's round and cylindrical and the sides and the bottom are more or less smooth. And what became critically important at trial is that the "pucks" are made by dipping a very special spoon into the hot gold. What the Crown was able to show was that the four "pucks" that they seized from this gentleman exactly match the pattern of the dipping spoon that The Mint uses. And these are custom-made to the millimetre.

CO: Did they show, or prove, that this is something that could actually go up someone's rectum?

KE: They did. There was testimony from the security people that they had actually tested this on a human being. And that when that person went through the metal detector, it went off. But when the person was given the secondary wand test, it didn't go off. So to them this was further evidence that indeed this could very well have been the method by which these "pucks" had left The Mint.

CO: Good heavens. Did the security person testify? I mean, do we know, was it a volunteer?

KE: Carol, I'm sorry. I don't know.

CO: Somebody drew the short straw on that one.

KE: Whenever you think you're having a bad day at the CBC . . . 

"People burn themselves in The Mint, Carol, and sometimes you need a little bit of that Vaseline jelly." - Kelly Egan

CO: Mr. Lawrence's lawyer says that he was selling gold, but you can't prove it came from The Mint. Is that the argument?

KE: It is. And that it's not an offence to sell gold. And the theory was advance that Mr. Lawrence works in the gold business and he travels abroad fairly often. And that it's not out of the realm of possibility that he might have acquired these chunks of gold in his travels and was just redeeming them.

Royal Canadian Mint employee alleged smuggler

The Royal Canadian Mint headquarters building in Ottawa. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg)

CO: If it is true that he did this and got this gold out of the building. What does that tell you about security at The Mint?

KE: Well, that it's not very good. Now I suppose we should say, in The Mint's defence, they have released a statement saying they've taken a bunch of steps to improve security. Including the addition of high-definition cameras and lots of them.

CO: I understand there's one last bit of circumstantial evidence. The man did have Vaseline in his locker.

KE: I'm told that he did, yes. But people burn themselves in The Mint, Carol, and sometimes you need a little bit of that Vaseline jelly.