How gold is melted
A major precious-metals company whose three Miami gold dealers were convicted of a massive money-laundering racket must pay the U.S. government $15 million as a criminal fine while being under probation for five years, a federal judge has ruled.
Elemetal, based in Dallas, was sentenced Thursday after admitting this spring that the company failed to maintain a compliance program to stop its gold dealers from carrying out a $3.6 billion money laundering scheme. The conspiracy entailed U.S. imports of lllegally mined and smuggled gold from South America — including deals with drug traffickers — through Elemetal's Miami subsidiary, NTR Metals.
The company was a central focus of the recent Miami Herald investigative series Dirty Gold, Clean Cash, which exposed the links between South Florida’s gold industry and the ruination of wide swaths of South American rainforest where illegal gold mining flourishes under the control of drug traffickers and other criminal groups.
Lawyers for Elemetal said the company plans to satisfy $10 million of the forfeiture imposed by the U.S. Attorney's Office by allowing the Peruvian government to keep a load of its gold seized by authorities there in late 2013. Elemetal is still trying to release a legal claim on that gold in Peru so the company can be given credit toward its fine approved by U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno.
Separately, Elemetal must pay $5 million to the U.S. government to satisfy the balance of the forfeiture approved by Moreno as part of the probationary sentence. Elemetal lawyer Trey Gum and federal prosecutor Francisco Maderal said the company has already paid $1 million toward that total.
If Elemetal fails to pay the total $15 million, the company could be found in violation of its probation and might face more serious criminal charges, including participating in the money laundering conspiracy itself, according to a plea agreement reached in March.
If it remains in business — Elemetal was forced to close its main precious-metals refinery in Ohio and was barred from trading gold on bullion markets — the company must show that it can maintain a robust anti-money-laundering program while it is on probation. It also shut down NTR Metals, which was located in a Doral warehouse.
Maderal cited a Bank Secrecy Act law broken by Elemetal, saying the company “willfully failed to develop, implement and maintain an [anti-money-laundering program] reasonably designed to prevent Elemetal from being used to facilitate money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities."
Elemetal’s guilty plea follows the convictions of a trio of Elemetal’s precious-metals dealers who bought billions in illegally mined and smuggled gold from drug-trafficking organizations based in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia. The three employees — Samer Barrage, 40, Juan Granda, 36, and Renato Rodriguez, 44 — worked for Elemetal’s Miami subsidiary, NTR Metals, and they were sentenced to between six and seven years in prison after pleading guilty to a $3.6 billion money laundering conspiracy last year.