A former Twin Cities coin dealer who moved to Wisconsin after the state banned certain ex-cons from the precious metals industry has agreed to plead guilty next month to a federal fraud charge and repay more than $1 million that he allegedly stole from victims.
Jamie Lee Smith, 42, of Baldwin, Wis., was indicted in Madison, Wis. last year on 23 counts, including wire fraud, mail fraud and making a false statement on a loan application. Smith, formerly of Burnsville, operated two companies in Minnesota until 2014: American Platinum Gold & Silver in St. Louis Park and American Independent Gold & Silver Inc. in Robbinsdale.
Smith's attorney, Craig Cascarano of Minneapolis, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
The Star Tribune featured Smith in a 2012 report that found that the Twin Cities coin industry was rife with ex-cons who were working in boiler rooms to sell coins, gold and silver around the country, oftentimes to elderly buyers and vulnerable adults. Many of their clients, including some who had dealt with Smith's companies, alleged that they had been defrauded. Federal prosecutors in Minnesota have since won convictions against at least seven coin dealers featured in the articles, and another case is pending.
The Minnesota Legislature responded in 2013 by requiring that most coin sales operations post a surety bond that would help fraud victims recover money. It also required that coins be delivered within a certain time frame, and that key details, such as precious metal content, be disclosed. The law required firms to register with the state, do background checks on employees, and prevent hiring individuals convicted of financial crimes in the previous decade.
Smith moved his companies to Wisconsin and since 2016 operated out of an office in River Falls, the indictment said. Prosecutors allege that Smith's scheme ran from 2010 to February 2017. He allegedly promised clients he wouldn't sell or trade their coins without their approval, but instead "Smith liquidated his clients' coins and used the funds for purposes other than what he promised the clients," the indictment said.
He also allegedly took his customers' money to purchase coins, but never shipped the coins to them; and he took in coins for appraisal from some clients, but never returned them, the indictment said.
Prosecutors sent a plea agreement to Smith in April, which he signed July 19. It was filed publicly on Monday. The charge he agreed to plea to carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison; the recommended sentence under the federal guidelines was not stated in the document. A plea hearing is scheduled for Sept. 10.
According to the signed plea agreement, Smith agrees to yield assets and repay losses alleged in the indictment of $1,019,099. The agreement leaves open the possibility that the ultimate amount of restitution could go higher.
The case resulted from an investigation by the FBI, the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the Internal Revenue Service and law enforcement agencies and regulators in Wisconsin.