Tigard man gets 51 months for client investment scam

A former Tigard gold and silver dealer will spend more than four years in prison after he stole more than $4 million in a botched Ponzi scheme last year.

Lawrence Heim, 76, was sentenced Oct. 31 to 51 months in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud and stealing more than $4 million from 48 victims from across the country.

Heim was the owner and president of U.S. Gold & Silver Investments Inc., which he ran for nearly 40 years.

A well-known precious metals dealer in Portland, Heim was regarded as an expert on precious metals, predicting the rise of gold in the 1970s. Heim also ran a website and hosted a radio show devoted to gold and silver investment.

Prosecutors say Heim swindled money from investors across the country by convincing them to purchase large amounts of gold and silver coins.

Heim promised to sell gold and silver to customers who invested in the company. Many of Heim’s clients were elderly, investing large portions of their retirement savings to purchase the coins as an investment. 

In 2009, Heim fell behind in his coin purchases and began operating the business as a “Ponzi” scheme, prosecutors said, using money from new investors to purchase gold and silver coins for older customers.

Newer customers didn’t receive any gold or silver coins. Prosecutors said Heim lied to those investors in order to reassure them, saying he was purchasing coins on their behalf.

The scheme eventually collapsed in early 2011, with about 48 victims  identified from across the country, including some from as far away as Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Florida.

FBI agents searched Heim’s Tigard home in March 2011, where the company was located, and seized computers, records and safe-deposit box keys.

“Ponzi schemes come in all shapes, sizes and colors — including gold and silver,” said Greg Fowler, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon. “Many people have simply trusted that the precious metals market was a safe bet in a down economy. This case demonstrates that you must always be cautious about how and with whom you invest your money.”

Heim will also have to pay back the more than $4 million to his victims.

“Financial fraud schemes are serious crimes that have a devastating impact on victims,” said U.S. Attorney for Oregon S. Amanda Marshall. “The sentence in this case sends a clear message that these crimes won’t be tolerated, and that prosecution will result in serious consequences.”

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