Wednesday, March 08, 2006



I'm no journalist, and maybe I'm missing something, but I've run across something that's hard to explain. Maybe it's nothing. But already it's made my new gig interesting.

As I wrote recently, I just joined a company called Northwest Territorial Mint. It's a bit of a challenge, because one of its clients is the NRA, and while I converted to belief in a broader interpretation of the Second Amendment during the Reagan Administration, when I feared that Ed Meese might send the FBI after me for voting for Mondale, I still don't believe the Second Amendment means that any mook can own and use a bazooka or a machine gun.

What I'm supposed to do is to grow the custom-minted coin side of the business, but I've also been working on generating advertising and web clicks for the bullion business. So as a new employee I've been researching competitors -- the modern way, via Google.

Turns out this business I've entered can be a little checkered. My own employer apparently served time in prison for what he tells me was an accounting mistake. I'm not sure if I believe him, since I can't find any record of it when I Google him.

But here's the interesting thing. One of his bullion competitors is a company called The Tulving Company. Google its owner, Hannes Tulving, and not too far down the list is an account of his consent decree settlement with the FTC for defrauding people out of money for coins at prices he artificially inflated (here). This happened in 1992. There was a monetary judgment in two parts. The first part, $260,000, was apparently paid over a five-year period. The second, $10,000,000 (yes, that's ten million), was to be paid if he ever recovered from bankruptcy, but as long as he was insolvent, he wouldn't need to worry.

Well, heck, everyone makes a mistake, right? He paid his $260,000, he was driven into bankruptcy, end of story. In fact, it's cheerful, because he's again a very serious member of the rare coin and precious metal business who, according to the chat boards, is friendly with financial reporter Ron Insana. (Of course, the amount of truth on chat boards is probably equal to the amount of truth told in the last half-hour of a frat party. I even wrote glowing reviews of my former employer's books at

Except here are some things that confuse me. On that same Google search I found an FTC memo from 2000 that indicates the $10,000,000 was never paid, even though the Tulving website gives every indication of a solvent business, talking about his yachts and all. Worse, even the $260,000 that was collected NEVER REACHED THOSE WHO WERE DEFRAUDED... nearly eight years later. In fact, the memo I found indicates that the government apparently routinely sits on this money for so long that the folks who originally prosecuted the case leave or get promoted and the money just sits, never being distributed to those who were cheated. That memo lists ten other cases besides Tulving's where the feds were hoarding money. I wish I could find proof of the money's ultimate distribution, but I can't (again, not a journalist). I fear that if funds from just these 11 cases weren't distributed, then perhaps there's even more money that won't ever be given to those who were defrauded and allegedly avenged by the government. It's like the government version of a class action suit, except instead of the lawyers getting more money than any plaintiff, it's the government itself.

Maybe the followup memo just isn't on the web. Maybe there's someone I can call or email at the FTC who could explain this to me. But it seems like a double scam to me. These 11 (and who knows how many more) criminal operations defrauded individuals, but the government is keeping money out of the hands of crime victims out of neglect, incompetence, or stupidity. I was so chapped that I actually dropped an email note to Michael Moore. I guess I could write my Congressman. Who else would I call?

It's a mystery. Meanwhile, read Consumer Reports and pay attention to your local consumer reporter. Unless, of course, your local consumer reporter is incompetent or stupid.

No comments: