COLUMBIA — Two people have been charged with helping hide precious metals as part of a multimillion Ponzi scheme in South Carolina, according to federal indictments unsealed earlier this month.
Prosecutors accuse Arizona residents Gordon Hall and Benton Hall of conspiring with a third man, Wallace Howell, to hinder a federal investigation of Ronnie Wilson.
Wilson is serving a 19-year federal prison sentence for mail fraud and has been ordered to pay more than $57 million in restitution. Prosecutors say the former Anderson County councilman and Howell promised to buy and sell silver for customers through Wilson’s business, Atlantic Bullion & Coin, but actually invested little of the $90 million they took in, either losing it or keeping it for themselves.
Wilson, also a former member of the state Board of Education and national commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told investigators he bought silver and shipped it to customers in 25 states, but he told employees and his customers that the silver was kept in a depository in Delaware. One employee told federal authorities she never saw any silver in the office or any paperwork from the depository.
Authorities have said more than 900 people invested about $90 million with Wilson, who changed receipts to keep the scheme going and lost nearly $60 million of clients’ money. He was charged in April 2012.
A month later, prosecutors say Howell traveled to Arizona to meet with the Halls. Within a few weeks of that meeting, the Halls had opened a bank account in the name of a business to which Howell had the buyer of a recreational vehicle make out a check. Benton Hall also wrote Howell a check for more than $5,500, prosecutors said. Howell tried to hide precious metals from authorities who were investigating Wilson by sending 55 gold coins and a bag of silver pieces to the Halls.
In all, prosecutors say Howell transferred goods and property to the Halls worth at least $1.5 million. In exchange for their help, prosecutors say the Halls agreed to pay Howell “a stipend for the remainder of Howell’s natural life” and to help him with any legal case resulting from the Ponzi scheme.
Howell has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Court documents listed no attorneys for the Halls, who face charges of conspiring to defraud the United States and attempting to commit mail fraud. No court dates have been scheduled in their case.