By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..
In what began as a dispute between a landlord and his tenant has exploded into a slow motion train wreck, placing the judgment, character, and business practices of one of the industry’s more polarizing personalities, Ross Hansen [above] into focus and putting the future of one of the largest private mints in jeopardy.
For Hansen and Northwest Territorial Mint, this latest turn of events isn’t the first time the company has faced shutdown over its practices but it may be the last for a man who has faced numerous allegations of impropriety over the years, including laundering drug money, sexual harassment, illegal possession and selling of firearms and noncompliance with federal tax law.
Hansen served three years in federal prison for the last two charges and currently faces a lawsuit relating to charges that he groped and harassed women in his employ.
It could also be the end for the company’s 200 employees. The Northwest Territorial Mint has locations in Nevada, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin and is the parent company of Medallic Art Company and Graco Awards.
Northwest Territorial Mint’s current problems stem from a $38.3 million judgment a Nevada jury placed against it and Hansen after he and his firm were found guilty of five counts of defamation and two counts of invasion of privacy for their involvement in a coordinated series of online attacks against California-based real estate management firm Cohen Asset Management, Inc. and its owner Bradley S. Cohen [right].
Multiple websites registered and operated by Hansen–all of which appear to have been taken down–alleged that Cohen could be the next Bernie Madoff, the eccentric Wall Street hedge fund manager sentenced to 150 years in prison for running the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.
Cohen’s firm was the landlord of two properties leased by Northwest Territorial Mint in 2009-2010.
Lawyers told the Wall Street Journal on April 1 that Hansen and the Northwest Territorial Mint would seek a new trial, claiming that no untrue information was published about Cohen on the websites and that the information posted did not cause harm or damages.
Nevertheless, on April 29 a federal judge upheld the defamation verdict.
A week later, Northwest Territorial Mint filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The filing states that under the terms of the reorganization Hansen would step down from his role managing the daily operations of the mint.
Bullion news blog About.ag, in a blow-by-blow account of the unwinding of Northwest Territorial Mint’s assets, reports that U.S. Trustee Mark Thomas Calvert will meet with creditors on May 11. In the interim, a website (existingbullionorders.com) has been established to provide customers with information about the bankruptcy and steps that need to be taken in order to be paid back any funds owed to them by the company.
There is no guarantee that any of the $20-$30 million dollars owed for outstanding orders can be recovered as bankruptcy proceedings are in the early phase.
A Company Already in Trouble?
About.ag also reports that many claims against the company submitted so far (a number now exceeding 1,000) are for products ordered more than 120 days before the bankruptcy filing. The company also appears to have leased $3.5 million in metal.
But before the bankruptcy there was little outside evidence that the company was in trouble. The Northwest Territorial Mint currently has a BBB rating of “F” but seems to have resolved a majority of the complaints lodged against it to the satisfaction of the claimants. This, of course, changed after April 1.
Also, Northwest Territorial Mint’s subsidiary companies are well established in the industry. Graco Awards has a government contract to produce medals and awards for the federal government and the United States Military.
“It just goes to show that you have to be careful [whom] you’re doing business with,” says Modern Coin Wholesale founder Ron Drzewucki. “If you are a bullion buyer that shops online, delivery speed is important. Northwest Territorial Mint’s long delivery window wouldn’t have passed muster with my buyers.”
As it stands, uncertainty surrounds the unpacking of Northwest Territorial Mint and its properties.
And while its customers and employees may find themselves in a state of shock, for Hansen, this latest legal wrinkle likely feels like “déjà vu all over again”.