The story of Leston Lawrence, the former Royal Canadian Mint employee accused of pocketing nearly $180,000 by keistering gold pucks has been all over the news today. But in all the coverage, one fact, albeit quite a childish one, seems to have flown under the radar.
Lawrence’s trial, on charges that include theft, laundering the proceeds of crime (pretty sure that joke writes itself), possession of stolen property and breach of trust has been presided over by a Justice Peter Doody. There’s no convincing me that this didn’t happen on purpose.
That aside, this is actually a pretty interesting case if for no other reason than it reveals that security at the Mint, A.K.A. the place where they literally make money, is kind of not very good.
“Appalling,” was the conclusion of defence lawyer Gary Barnes, who described the Crown’s case as an underwhelming collection of circumstantial evidence.
“This is the Royal Canadian Mint, your Honour, and one would think they should have the highest security measures imaginable,” Barnes said in his closing submission.
“And here the gold is left sitting around in open buckets.”
Indeed, it was not even the Mint that discovered the alleged theft but an alert bank teller.
But the defence countered with a couple of important points. The Crown was not able to prove conclusively that the gold in Lawrence’s possession actually came from inside the Mint. It had no markings nor, apparently, had any gold been reported missing internally.
Court was told Lawrence set off the metal detector at an exit from the “secure area” with more frequency than any other employee — save those with metal medical implants. When that happened, the procedure was to do a manual search with a hand-held wand, a search that he always passed.
(It was not uncommon for employees to set off the detector, court heard.)
Barnes implied there were many ways Lawrence could have legitimately obtained the gold — he could have bought the coins, for instance — and said he made no efforts to be devious with the gold buyers or the bank. Further, Barnes said, the Mint isn’t even sure a theft took place.
“In fact, I would submit the Mint doesn’t even know if anything is missing.”
In an emailed statement Tuesday evening, a Mint spokeswoman said several security measures had been upgraded, including high definition security cameras in all areas, improved ability to track, balance and reconcile precious metal, and the use of “trend analysis technology.”
And they didn’t have all of this before because…?
I don’t want you to take any of the above as me agreeing that Lawrence is innocent or even that, as his lawyer says, the evidence against him is underwhelming. Circumstantial sure, but sometimes the circumstances don’t lie, and these ones look pretty bad for young Leston here.
One day a teller became suspicious at the size and number of Ottawa Gold Buyers cheques being deposited and Lawrence’s request to wire money out of the country. She then noticed on his account profile that he worked at the Mint. The first red flag was up.
Bank security was alerted, then the RCMP, which began to investigate. Eventually, a search warrant was obtained and four Mint-style pucks were found in Lawrence’s safety deposit box, court heard.
A bit suspect, but a lot of people keep gold around so they’ll have something worthwhile when the financial system inevitably collapses. Hardly means he’s guilty.
Lawrence’s safety deposit box is another one that writes itself, by the way.
The Crown was able to show the pucks precisely fit the Mint’s custom “dipping spoon” made in-house — not available commercially — that is used to scoop molten gold during the production process.
Lawrence, who has since been terminated, was an operator in the refinery section. Among his duties was to scoop gold from buckets so it could be tested for purity, as the Mint prides itself on gold coins above the 99 per cent level.
Getting warmer, but just because he could have doesn’t mean he did.
Investigators also found a container of vaseline in his locker and the trial was presented with the prospect that a puck could be concealed in an anal cavity and not be detected by the wand.
Again, not proclaiming his guilt or innocence here. I’m merely trying to illustrate both that the Mint ought to be doing better and that Gary Barnes and I have different definitions of the word underwhelming.
Before this post ends, I must commend the dedication of at least one unnamed Mint security employee by way of my favourite pair of sentences in this entire article. One you’ve already seen, but the second makes it even better.
Investigators also found a container of vaseline in his locker and the trial was presented with the prospect that a puck could be concealed in an anal cavity and not be detected by the wand. In preparation for these proceedings, in fact, a security employee actually tested the idea, Barnes said.
Somebody had better be getting a raise.
The trial continues November 9th.