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Sample ComplaintsOctober 24, 2017 10:00AM
Out of 107 complaints I have copies of (not including 2 duplicates, a complaint by an employee, and a 'good standing' check), 67 (63%) are clear-cut: either NWT Mint didn't respond to the Attorney General within the 21-day timeframe (NWT Mint is required to respond to customers within 48 hours), or NWT Mint did not ship the product within 114 days (they are required to immediately issue a refund at that point; the 114 days is a number I came up with: 2 weeks for the payment to clear, 8-10 week delivery time, plus 30 day extension).
So what is left are the less obvious complaints. Some are simply customers who are upset (e.g. they did not read that it would take 8-10 weeks to ship, and were used to getting orders shipped within a week). In other cases, NWT Mint violated the Consent Decree (but figuring that out may require a bit more work). But here are quotes from 25 of the 40 not-so-obvious complaints:
As you can see, looking at the complaints, it should be obvious that this company is handling a lot of money, and behaving inappropriately.
Note that this table does not even include a single comment from people whose orders had not shipped by the "drop dead" date, or comments from people whose complaint NWT Mint ignored.
Then Versus Now
How Many Complaints to Take Action?October 23, 2017 8:30PM
When the AG sued NWT Mint in February, 2008, they reported that the AG's office, BBB, and FTC had received a total of 82 consumer complaints. According to a statement by NWT Mint, in 2007 the AG only received 11 complaints against NWT Mint. I believe it is safe to rely on that number, since NWT Mint announced it in a press release 2 days after the AG sued NWT Mint.
Compare that with 2013, when the Attorney General's office received 12 complaints. That's more complaints than it originally took to sue NWT Mint. This time, it wasn't about some unknown company; these complaints were about a company that the AG's office had previously sued and signed a Consent Decree with. From my reading, in at least 5 of those cases NWT Mint violated the Consent Decree. NWT Mint didn't even bother to respond to 2 more of them (despite being required by the Consent Decree to respond to customers within 48 hours). How in the world can the Attorney General simply close complaints against a company they previously sued, when the company does not even respond?
Then, compare it with 2014, when there were 23 complaints filed with the Attorney General (more than twice as many as it took to originally sue them). In fact, NWT Mint in 2014 failed to respond to 11 of the 23 complaints.
And in 2015, the AG logged 77 complaints against NWT Mint. And still, the AG did not take action.
Escalated 2013 ComplaintOctober 23, 2017 6:35PM
On January 28, 2013 the Attorney General recorded a complaint from a NWT Mint customer. He stated that he ordered on October 8, 2012, and was told his order would ship by December 28, 2012. The order was delayed, entering the 30-day period (if the order does not ship by the end of the 30 days, an immediate refund of the higher of spot or price paid is required). The customer pointed out that while NWT Mint stated that the 30-day period expired on January 28, it actually expired on January 27, and NWT Mint declined his refund (which is a violation of the Consent Decree: they are required to immediately refund the money; there is no other option, even if the customer begs for delivery).
The Attorney General dutifully passed the information on to NWT Mint. NWT Mint's in-house counsel apparently lied and stated "Mr. [name removed]’s order was shipped before his 30 day extended shipping time had run [out]." They did not dispute that the order was originally scheduled to ship by December 28. Anyone with a calendar can check this out. The AG tried closing the complaint based on NWT Mint's response, oblivious to the blatant lie. That I can understand: they didn't bother checking a calendar to see who was right, and assumed the company's attorney was right.
The AG re-opened the file, and the customer stated "The [Consent Decree] has actually provided cover for this business to behave in a manner that I have not seen with other businesses. ... The business model is designed to cheat customers." The customer stated that the AG acknowledged that NWT Mint missed the "drop dead" date (which would be a violation of the Consent Decree if no immediate refund was issued, as was the case here).
The AG's office then wrote "Your complaint has been discussed with Assistant Attorney General Paula Selis and she is in agreement with our assessment and decision to close your complaint after the receiving the businesses response." Ms. Selis drew up the Consent Decree, so is intimately aware of its details. Apparently she either couldn't figure out that NWT Mint violated the Decree, or felt that NWT Mint violating the Decree was unimportant. The "after the receiving the businesses response" part is damning: it suggests that they felt that the complaint should not have been closed, if not for what NWT Mint said. But the dates confirm that the customer was right. That seems like blatant incompetence for a case that was escalated to the person that signed the Consent Decree.
FactsOctober 23, 2017 6:15PM
[I expect to update this section occasionally]
Complaints to the Attorney General, by year, 2011-2015:
Quick Sample of 2014 ComplaintsOctober 23, 2017 1:20PM
The Attorney General's standard response to complaints included "We may open a formal investigation or take enforcement action pursuant to the Consumer Protection Act at any time if the facts and circumstances indicate that further action is warranted."
So what should the Attorney General do with a company that in 2014 received complaints like these:
AG Gave Blessing to Illegal ActivityOctober 23, 2017 12:30PM
As I recently reported, the State of Washington Department of Financial Institutions Securities Division (SoWDoFISD?) sued NWT Mint and Ross Hansen. The SoWDoFISD served Hansen, who had 20 days to request a hearing, but failed to do so. The SoWDoFISD then entered a Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.
The summary: The "Conclusions of Law" paragraph 3 states "The offer and/or sale of said commodity, commodity contract, or commodity option violated RCW 21.30.020 because the offer and/or sale was made by a person not exempt under RCW 21.30.030 and the transaction or contract was not exempt under RCW 21.30.040." In other words, NWT Mint selling metal and taking over 28 days to deliver was illegal. It implies that the illegal activity was ongoing since at least early 2008.
It now seems clear that the Attorney General giving his blessing to NWT Mint operating in a way that violates Washington State law, through the Consent Decree that the AG and NWT Mint signed. We've long known that the Consent Decree gave NWT Mint the AG's blessing to operate in the way they were (e.g. NWT Mint often mentioned the Consent Decree when responding to BBB and AG complaints). But now Washington State has confirmed that NWT Mint's operations were illegal.
In fairness to the Attorney General, the Consent Decree section 6.7 states "Nothing in this Consent Decree shall be construed as authority for non-compliance with all federal and state laws, including but not limited to those regulating the sale and trading of commodities or securities." In other words, the Consent Decree did not authorize NWT Mint to operate illegally. But there is not a single case under the Consent Decree where the AG would have required delivery in less than 28 days, as Washington State commodities law requires. In fact, the Consent Decree typically allowed NWT Mint over 3 months to deliver metal (and possibly much longer).
One must also wonder why the 2008 Consent Decree mentioned state laws regulation the trading of commodities. Clearly, the Attorney General does not want to sign documents that could be construed as authorizing illegal behavior. But it appears that the Consent Decree only contemplated behavior that is now known to be illegal. Did the Attorney General draw up the Consent Decree knowing that it might allow behavior violating state commodities law (the AG knew the laws existed)? Did the Attorney General know the practice was illegal in Washington, but allow it to continue anyway? Or did the Attorney General simply not understand whether NWT Mint was violating the law (and if so, why did the SoWDoFISD so easily determine that the law was broken)?
This is all the more disturbing because NWT Mint relied on the Consent Decree to keep people like me from discovering the fraud early on. I started looking closely into NWT Mint in mid-2014, and then even more closely in late 2014. When people asked me, I made it clear that there was no way to tell if NWT Mint had severe financial problems or not. But I couldn't publish anything or encourage people to complain to authorities, since they were (to the best of my knowledge at that time) operating within the law (and for fear of being sued by Hansen). Had the Attorney General done his job and realized in 2008 that NWT Mint was operating illegally, or checked NWT Mint's finances, NWT Mint would have been shut down years ago.
Attorney General Completely and Utterly Fooled
... AG Signed Consent Decree With NWT $35M In The HoleOctober 4, 2017 3:25PM
The Chapter 11 Trustee Mark Calvert yesterday filed a Report of Investigation and Status Report. Most information is already known, but the lengthy report is likely worth a read.
What is shocking, however, is that it confirms the incompetence of the Washington State Attorney General in 2008. In February, 2008, the Attorney General filed a complaint against NWT Mint and Ross Hansen, stating that "Consumers have ... waited months for their orders to arrive." A multi-month delay means one of two things: either the company is poorly managed, or it is engaging in financial shenanigans (e.g. delaying orders to keep the interest, trying to time the market, embezzling the money, etc.). But by September, 2008, the Attorney General and NWT Mint shook hands with a Consent Decree, letting NWT Mint continue their practices with certain restrictions and allowances.
We have known for a year or so that the Washington State Attorney General in recent years was incompetent. One of the AG's goals for 2015 was to "Proactively enforce state and federal consumer protection laws by investigating alleged unlawful activity and taking legal action when appropriate to compensate consumers and deter illegal activity and deceptive practices in the marketplace." In 2015, NWT Mint was running a $30 million Ponzi-like scheme. This is a company that the AG had already tried suing, and had a signed Consent Decree with, and the AG even received more complaints in 2015 about NWT Mint than any other Washington State company (except 3 household names bound to generate complaints: Amazon, Microsoft, and Expedia). Is "flying over the radar" a thing?
But things get worse. This report shows that at the end of December, 2008, about 3 months after the Consent Decree was filed, NWT Mint had assets of about $19M and liabilities of about $55M -- in other words, they owed customers $35,000,000 more than they had. They were insolvent. How can an Attorney General possibly sue a company for delaying millions of dollars of orders by months, and then sign a Consent Decree without even checking their finances?
The report also says:
NWTM Duped the Attorney General
'Complain to the AG and We Will Delay Your Refund'October 31, 2016 2:00PM EST
It looks like NWTM managed to dupe the Washington State Attorney General's office several times over the years.
This all starts in 2008, when the Attorney General sued NWTM (after having received just 11 complaints). Somehow, NWTM got the Attorney General to sign a consent decree, effectively giving NWTM the AttorneyGeneral's blessing to operate in a way that is illegal in some states (California requires delivery in 28 days), while being able to use millions of dollars of customer money as float, in exchange for a $58K judgment. Not a bad deal!
Fast-forward to April 1, 2015, exactly one year before NWTM filed for bankruptcy. At this point, the AG now had over 50 new complaints filed, in a pattern showing rising complaint volume. Some customers are just upset (not having realized it might take months to get their orders). But others were cases that clearly violated the consent decree. NWTM was so brazen as to not even respond to the AG for months at a time, never responding to many complaints. At other times, they lied to the AG (often stating an incorrect "drop dead" date, which the AG apparently trusted without bothering to calculate the actual date -- adding 30 days to a given date is not rocket science).
At this point in time, a year before the bankruptcy, I have been told that the Attorney General also had some damning information: NWTM violated the 2008 consent decree by not immediately refunding money to a customer when the "drop dead" date was reached, and then when the customer said he was going to complain to the Attorney General, NWTM advised the customer not to, saying that the owner of NWTM would then get mad and try to delay the refund as long as possible. Assuming my information is correct, this single instance shows  NWTM violating the 2008 consent decree with the Attorney General,  that NWTM found a way to manipulate customers into generating fewer complaints with the Attorney General, and  that the Attorney General ignored an extremely blatant red flag.
It really boggles the mind that the Attorney General could sit on this information for a year, with complaints piling up (over 200 complaints were filed before the bankruptcy). In fact, in 2015, the only companies located in Washington with more complaints than NWTM were Amazon, Microsoft, and Expedia.
Attorney GeneralAugust 24, 2016 4:40PM EST
In 2008, the Washington Attorney General's office looked into NWTM's habit of delaying orders for several months, and signed a consent decree with NWTM. It was assumed that the AG looked into NWTM's practices, saw that they were solvent, and that is why they allowed the practice to continue. They wouldn't allow a bankrupt company continue to delay orders several months, right?
According to an article by the Federal Way Mirror, the Attorney General received hundreds of complaints before the NWTM bankruptcy (and refers to thousands of complaint documents). The article mentioned that even if NWTM did not respond to the AG within the allotted time, the case would be closed.
A number of customers have wondered if the Attorney General can be held accountable for this.
I bring this up today because of an article by the Everett, Washington HeraldNet. It refers to "a fraud orchestrated by the state's own Attorney General", where there was "a secret pact by the state’s experts, with the blessing of the state Attorney General, to systematically destroy emails and repeatedly deceive the plaintiffs about what they were doing." Interestingly, I used the same term "blessing" when I previously (on April 25, 2016) referred to the 2008 NWTM decree by saying "the State of Washington gave NWT their blessing to allow length shipping times, making financial problems very difficult to see from complaints."
SummaryIn February 2008, the Washington State Attorney General (then Rob McKenna) sued NWT Mint and owner Ross Hansen, for violation of the Washington State Consumer Protection Act (19.86 RCW). At that time, NWT Mint made statements such as it would ship orders "promptly" or within 30 days, while some customers waited months for orders to arrive. The AG also felt the refund policy was unfair (refunding based on spot price), and that NWT Mint often failed to respond to customers.
In September, 2008, the Attorney General and NWT Mint signed a Consent Decree. NWT Mint was to pay a total of $58,763.49 (attorneys fees plus a $20,000 civil penalty). The essence of the Decree is that it required NWT Mint to provide a shipping time estimate before orders were placed, and allowed them a 30 day window after that (with notice to the customer, who could get a refund based on spot pricing). If the 30 day window ended without delivery (referred to at NWT Mint as the "drop dead" date), they were required to immediately refund the money.
In April, 2016, NWT Mint filed for bankruptcy. We learned very shortly after that that the AG had received hundreds of complaints about NWT Mint after the Decree, many of which proved that NWT Mint violated the Decree (and some were more disturbing, such as the person who told the AG that he was told that Ross Hansen would delay his order if he complained to the AG). Then in late 2017 we learned that  NWT Mint was insolvent when the Consent Decree was filed, and  NWT Mint was operating illegally when the Consent Decree was filed (violating state commodities law by delivering after 28 days).
The most obvious reason why a company would habitually delay orders for products they do not have in stock is because they cannot afford to buy the products: they are insolvent. And in this case, we now know NWT Mint was insolvent, to the tune of $35 million, when the Decree was signed. So how did the Attorney General not know that in 2008, when the Decree allowed the AG at any time to request documents to monitor compliance with the Decree? How did the AG get complaints proving that NWT Mint violated the Decree (to which NWT Mint sometimes blatantly lied in response) and not investigate further? How could the AG get complaints about NWT Mint violating the Decree, and not take action when NWT Mint ignored the complaint and did not bother to respond?
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