Jay Flynn’s jailhouse religious discoveries didn’t do him much good Thursday when he stood before U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Schiltz and apologized for stealing nearly $325,000 from elderly coin buyers.
The federal judge said that he was going to give the former Twin Cities coin and bullion dealer a stiffer sentence than the prosecutor sought and federal guidelines recommend — something he’s done only once before.
Schiltz then sentenced Flynn to 52 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, saying he’d engaged in fraud that was “particularly brazen and cruel.”
Flynn, who worked at several Twin Cities telemarketing companies, preyed on the fears of people who mostly were in their 70s and 80s. He pilfered their savings, lied to them about what he did with their precious metals, then refused to answer their calls, “leaving them out in the cold,” the judge said.
Schiltz noted that Flynn’s single biggest theft was $59,000, stolen from an 89-year-old.
He cited Flynn’s lengthy criminal record, which includes armed robbery, drug trafficking, drug possession, check forgery and domestic assaults, and said he couldn’t fathom how the state of Minnesota allowed someone with such a record to buy and sell precious metals.
“It’s no wonder that the precious metals industry in general and the coin industry in particular is a cesspool,” Schiltz said.
A Star Tribune investigation in 2011 found that the telemarketing of coins and precious metals by some Twin Cities firms was rife with addicts, ex-convicts and con artists who, like Flynn, routinely misled or defrauded customers. Attorney General Lori Swanson sued Flynn and others as part of her office’s own investigation of the then-unregulated industry.
The Legislature responded in 2013 with a law giving the Minnesota Department of Commerce oversight over dealers and their employees. It requires criminal background checks and bans from the industry anyone convicted of a financial crime in the preceding 10 years. Dealers also must post a surety bond that can be tapped by consumers in the event of misbehavior. Those who violate the law could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $10,000 per incident.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Schommer, who prosecuted Flynn, had recommended a sentence of 41 months, which is the top of the federal sentencing guidelines.
Schommer said she’s still hearing from his elderly victims. One who called this week said he’s now facing a $25,000 IRS penalty because Flynn had convinced him to withdraw money from a tax-sheltered investment retirement account, supposedly to invest in precious metals held by another tax-sheltered vehicle. But it was a ruse, so he owes the penalty on top of losing his savings, Schommer said.
Flynn, dressed in jailhouse blaze orange sweats, told Schiltz that sitting in jail for the past 10 months, he’s had time to reflect on his crimes. He said he “feels bad” and wants to rededicate himself to his family and “live by God’s laws.”
Schiltz said he considered Flynn’s contrition, his “good family” background and ongoing support. But he also noted that Flynn has been through substance abuse treatment three times, yet showed up for his first court hearing with cocaine in his system.
Schiltz banned Flynn from having anything to do with the precious metals industry upon his release from prison without approval from his probation officer. And he ordered him to start paying $200,000 in back child support payments, as well as $324,949 in restitution to his victims.
Flynn is just the latest Twin Cities dealer ordered to federal prison. In 2013, David Marion, one of the largest former dealers in Minnesota, received a five-year sentence for fraud and money laundering. In early July, Tory Evan Hughes, a former business associate of Flynn, was sentenced to 71 months in prison; and Dennis Helmer got 150 months in prison.
That leaves two pending sentencing: Tiffany Grady, of St. Paul, and Robert Earl Gundy, a former associate of Flynn who’s been cooperating with federal prosecutors.