Former mint employee who smuggled gold in his rectum deserves 3 years, Crown says

The former Royal Canadian Mint employee who smuggled $190,000 worth of gold in his rectum should be sentenced to three years in prison, the Crown argued in Ontario court.

Leston Lawrence found guilty in November of stealing 22 gold 'pucks' worth estimated $190K

A still image from a surveillance video shows Leston Lawrence being checked by a guard with a hand-held 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)

The former Royal Canadian Mint employee who smuggled $190,000 worth of gold in his rectum should be sentenced to three years in prison, the Crown argued in Ontario court Wednesday.

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.

Lawrence 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.

Sentencing submissions were supposed to have taken place in December, but court heard that Lawrence was making efforts to reimburse the mint for the value of the gold he stole. Submissions were rescheduled for today.

Motivated by greed, Crown argues

Crown attorney David Friesen told court Wednesday in Ottawa that Lawrence should be given a three-year prison sentence, arguing that theft of gold and breach of trust are serious offences.

"He abused the trust placed in him as a refiner to benefit himself ... the motivations for the offences was greed," Friesen said.

He added that the offences took place over several months and were "not simply a one-off." Friesen also told court there has so far been "no demonstration of remorse."

The Crown is also seeking a $190,000 fine — the total amount the 22 gold pucks are worth on the market now. Court heard Wednesday that Lawrence has not made restitution but is in the process of selling his home, which would generate about $20,000.

Lawrence spent some of the profits and wired the rest outside the country, Friesen said, meaning the proceeds can't be recovered. The five remaining pucks used as exhibits during the trial are in RCMP possession, and the mint wants them back, court heard.

'Not a sophisticated plan'

Defence lawyer Gary Barnes told court his client should receive an 18-month jail sentence, arguing it was easy for Lawrence to smuggle the gold.

"All he had to do was pick up the [gold] pucks and walk out the doors with them ... It was so easy. It certainly shows it was not a sophisticated plan," Barnes said, adding that his client did it for months without getting caught.

Lawrence has already lost his job, Barnes added, and the convictions are going to make it "exceedingly difficult" for Lawrence to find other work.

Eighteen months is a considerable sentence given the job loss, lack of previous criminal record and unsophisticated nature of the crime, Barnes told court.

Barnes also argued the Lawrence should only have to pay back $130,000, which is the amount he made selling the gold, rather than the $190,000 the gold is estimated to be worth.

Ontario Court Justice Peter Doody is expected to delivery the sentence Feb. 2.

Set off metal detectors

While announcing the guilty verdict in November, 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. But when a secondary check with hand-held detectors failed to alert guards to the gold, Lawrence was able to leave with it each time.

The hand-held detectors aren't as sensitive as 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.

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 gold a 24-karat gold puck for $7,966.27 to the store, and had previously sold 17 similar pucks to the same store, for a grand total of $138,172.46.

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 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 there were no cameras in the locker-room.