Local coin dealer indicted after long history of fraud, deception
To his clients across the country, Dennis Charles Helmer was a wealthy businessman, operating a hugely successful coin shop with $500 million in annual revenue. They thought their precious metal coins were safe with Helmer's business, Wholesale Assets Worldwide, being invested in the right places and hopefully making them a bit of money in the process.
But it was all a lie, a house of cards built on top of a company that ended with only $12,000 in inventory and a negative bank account balance, according to grand jury documents. Helmer's history of fraud and swindling was finally unearthed through an investigation by the Minnesota Commerce Department and United States Postal Inspective Service. He's been indicted on 19 counts of mail and wire fraud, only the latest in a long line of deceptions.
In an industry that has been rife with criminal conduct for years, Helmer's fraud stands out. According to the grand jury indictment, Helmer used his latest coin business, the Minnesota-based Wholesale Assets Worldwide, as a kind of mini Ponzi scheme. Instead of fulfilling many of his customers' orders to buy, sell, or exchange coins, Helmer used much of it to keep the scheme alive and get a little bit for himself.
He took some of the cash. He paid employees with it. He paid back some clients using money from others. Helmer even used the money to fund his new start-up company, Smoke Shack, a business he created "for the ostensible purpose of developing vans for use as personal smoking stations outside bars and restaurants," according to the indictment. To keep up the charade, Helmer lied or simply ignored his clients.
The investigation found that from 2010 through October 2013, Helmer ended up losing his customers $1.2 million.
Helmer's dishonesty can be traced all the way back to 2002, when he was convicted in Dakota County of theft by swindling. It was a serious crime, but it was only the tip of the iceberg.
Soon, the convictions started adding up. In 2005, Helmer was busted for swindling a woman in South Carolina. It started with a few phone calls out of the blue from Best Price Coins (Helmer's shop at the time) to Claire Smith, an elderly widow. After a few chats, they eventually reached a deal. Smith would give Helmer coins and cash valued at around $175,000, and she'd receive 50 gold coins valued the same.
Johnny Ray Horton, a Best Price employee at the time, called it a "no lose" deal and said she'd triple her investment, according to court documents. And yet of the 50 coins she was promised, Smith received only seven. She took Helmer to court later that year, looking to reclaim the lost money.
Helmer never replied, let alone showed up at court. But it all worked out in the end, when the judge forced him to pay Smith back.
(To read more about Helmer's swindling, keep reading.)