- A precious metals dealer has been asked to pay $146 million in damages after more than half a million silver coins went missing.
- Robert Higgins ran a “fraudulent and deceptive scheme” related to the buying and selling of precious metals, the CFTC said.
- From 2014 to 2022, Higgins ran a “fraudulent money leasing scheme” that took deposits from nearly 200 customers.
It’s a plot that wouldn’t seem out of place in the Ocean Trilogy.
The vault where precious metals dealer Robert Higgins claimed to store more than half a million of his customers’ silver coins has been discovered by investigators to be empty – except for small boxes of IOUs in paper.
Now the 68-year-old has been ordered by a Delaware court to pay $146 million in damages as punishment for running an elaborate scam that embezzled nearly $115 million of money from its clients over an eight-year period, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said in a statement.
From 2014 to 2022, Higgins convinced nearly 200 unsuspecting investors to purchase and store their American Eagle Silver coins through his two companies, Argent Asset Group LLC and First State Depository Company LLC, according to the CFTC.
The coins are 99.9% silver and minted by the US Treasury, making them a popular alternative investment among Americans. But customers who bought pieces through Higgins’ businesses may not have owned any at all – because it’s unclear if they ever existed in the first place.
In addition, the First State Depository distributed false monthly account statements to customers, according to court documents.
Higgins ran a “fraudulent and deceptive scheme” and was ordered to pay customers $113 million and $33 million in penalties, according to the CFTC. Both of his companies are ordered out of business and he is banned from the industry for life.
The precious metals industry has seen a series of scams lately. In March, the London Metal Exchange was rocked when investigators found bags of stones in a Rotterdam warehouse, instead of the nickel that underpinned some of the exchange’s contracts.
A few weeks earlier, Trafigura, a Singapore-based trading house, accused metals tycoon Prateek Gupta of rigging $500 million worth of nickel shipments.