Feds to Romanian bunker builders: We're taking your gold

Feds to Romanian bunker builders: We're taking your gold
Radu and Diana Nemes, a Yelm couple accused in a $68 million tax dodge in Romania. (SEATTLEPI.COM)
YELM, Wash. - Snakeskin coats. Silver goblets. A dozen guns.

Oh, and the gold.

All that was among the haul taken by federal investigators earlier this year from a Yelm couple since extradited to face fraud charges in Romania.

Having returned Radu and Diana Nemes to their native Romania – where they’re accused of duping the government out of $68 million in taxes – federal prosecutors in Seattle have asked that the spoils of the investigation be forfeited to the U.S. government. Among those items are hundreds of gold coins, a small portion of which are known to weigh more than 7 pounds and are valued at more than $140,000.

Federal investigators scoured several properties belonging to the Nemes in March after it was discovered the fugitives were living richly in Yelm. They are accused of conspiring with high-ranking officials in the Romanian government in the profitable tax dodge.

Investigators claim Radu and Diana Nemes, 38, used laundered money to pay for a $3 million log home while running shell businesses in Washington. Neither was charged in the United States, and both have since been extradited to Romania.

The couple left hundreds of gold and silver coins on their 53-acre Yelm property, which included an underground bunker. Ground-penetrating radar was brought in as agents looked for gold thought to have been buried there.

Among the items seized during the search was a single gold coin stamped with the words "Ramtha Gold Wisdom." Investigators contended the Nemes were involved in a fringe religious group based in Yelm whose founder contends she channels the spirit of "Ramtha."

The following are some of the more interesting bits that may be headed for the auction block:

• 113 1-ounce gold coins, and 400 more of unspecified weights.
• $89,000 seized from various bank accounts.
• Seven vehicles, including a 2010 Land Rover and 2003 Mercedes-Benz S600.
• 21 boxes of silver coins, in addition to 256 silver coins of unknown weight, 25 1-ounce dollar coins, 50 silver medallions and assorted other silver coins.
• Designer clothing, including child size Gucci pants.
• 31 leather jackets, including a man's Versace suede coat in teal and a woman's coat made of mink fur and snake skin.
• 43 pairs of shoes and boots, including a pair of crocodile cowboy boots.
• 26 designer purses and handbags.
• 115 watches and items of jewelry.
• 12 firearms, including an AR-15-style rifle and a magazine-fed .22 cal. rifle.
• Six televisions and 10 iPads.
• Statues of Mickey and Minnie Mouse cut from Swarovski crystal.
• Two silver goblets, shaped as horseheads.

Working with Romanian authorizes, the FBI’s Seattle division began investigating the Nemes in 2012.

Anti-corruption officials in Romania contend they cheated the government out of $68 million in taxes due on nearly 1 million tons of diesel fuel. The couple is alleged to have conspired with Romanian finance officials to perpetrate the fraud.

Investigators contend the Nemes laundered the proceeds of the scheme through banks in Dubai and the United States before fleeing Romania. They previously created several businesses in Western Washington, purportedly to aid in money laundering.

The Nemes are alleged to have spent millions in laundered money on construction equipment, gold and real estate, as well as at least one yacht. Writing the court, Diana Nemes' attorney described the purported scheme as a legitimate tax dispute and claimed the money at issue was earned legally.

In a search warrant affidavit, though, a Seattle-based FBI special agent said the couple’s finances are “permeated with fraudulent money laundering activity and have been funded primarily, if not exclusively, with the proceeds of their Romanian tax evasion scheme.”

Arresting the couple on March 18, FBI agents searched the Vail Road Southeast property, as well as a neighboring property occupied by two associates. Investigators came to believe the couple had buried boxes of gold “liberty” coins on the properties and returned with ground-penetrating radar.

FBI agents in the United States identified several bank accounts apparently controlled by the Nemes, and learned Radu Nemes and a friend frequently traveled with large amounts of cash.

Writing the court, the FBI agent said the Nemes have been traveling the United States, flying first class and staying at luxury hotels. In just more than a year, they spent more than $235,000 at designer boutiques and withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

Bank records showed Radu Nemes spent more than $1 million at a Federal Way-based precious metals dealer, buying gold bullion. Investigators believe he bought additional gold from several other coin sellers.

The Nemes appear to have moved their yacht – the Ramaya – to the Americas from the Mediterranean in late 2012. The 70-foot Azimut yacht was sold months later for $2.3 million. According to search warrant affidavits, the Nemes are suspected of paying $2.8 million in laundered money to the construction firm building a log house on the Yelm property.

Agents searching the Nemes’ properties seized most of their valuables, including 21 boxes packed with silver coins, more than a dozen cell phones, seven vehicles and a riding lawnmower. Also seized was a large quantity of building materials, including a collection of solar panels apparently for use on the log house.

Federal prosecutors are now seeking a court order that would allow the U.S. Marshals Service to auction off the seized items.

Prosecutors contend all of the items were bought with laundered money from the tax cheat. Attorneys for the Nemes may fight the lawsuit, which was filed Friday in U.S. District Court at Seattle.