Sentencing delayed for mint employee who smuggled gold in his rectum

A former Royal Canadian Mint employee who smuggled $190,000 worth of gold in his rectum over several months is making efforts to pay it back, court heard Monday.

Progress report on Leston Lawrence's attempts to pay back the money scheduled for Dec. 19

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 who smuggled $190,000 worth of gold in his rectum over several months is making efforts to pay it back, court heard Monday.

In November, 35-year-old Leston Lawrence was found guilty of stealing 22 solid gold "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.

It's estimated that if he had managed to sell all 22 pucks through Ottawa Gold Buyers, Lawrence would have made about $165,000 — an amount based on what he sold the 17 pucks for. But the full market value of the 22 pucks of gold is estimated to be about $190,000.

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.

Lawrence was in Ontario court Monday for what was originally scheduled to be a sentencing hearing, but court heard that Lawrence is trying to reimburse the mint for the value of the gold he stole.

His next court date is now scheduled for Dec. 19 for a progress report on his attempts at restitution. Sentencing submissions are now expected to be made Jan. 25.

As Lawrence left the Ottawa courthouse Monday surrounded by television cameras, he told reporters he had no comment.

Worked at mint from 2008 to 2015

While announcing the guilty verdict earlier this month, Ontario Court Justice Peter Doody said 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.

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

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 to scoop some out with a ladle, let it cool and then test it for purity. He was supposed to return the pucks into the vat of molten gold after testing.

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

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.

Placed under surveillance

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

Investigators 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 safe-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 perfectly fit the ladle used exclusively by the mint, Doody's decision detailed.

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, 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.