Rare coin dealer pleads guilty in $15 million fraud

A Newport Beach man who was a prominent dealer of rare coins and precious metals pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to using an online scheme to defraud more than 400 people out of at least $15 million.

Hannes Tulving Jr., 60, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for one count of wire fraud.

His business, The Tulving Co. Inc., based in Costa Mesa, must pay full restitution to customers and could be subjected to additional penalties, according to the plea agreement.

Prosecutors said the company took orders from customers nationwide between August 2013 and January 2014 knowing it couldn’t deliver all the promised goods.

Instead of shipping the coins, bullion or other precious metals, the company used money from new orders to pay off debts, fund other operations or give refunds to earlier customers who didn’t receive their shipments, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in the western district of North Carolina, which prosecuted the case.

Tulving – The Tulving Co.'s sole owner and shareholder – has been accused of shady dealings in the rare coin industry before.

In 1990, he owned Hannes Tulving Rare Coin Investment, which the Federal Trade Commission alleged ran a Ponzi scheme.

In that case, authorities said, Tulving inflated the prices of new coin sales so he could afford to pay back earlier customers whom he had guaranteed could cash out their collections under the company’s buyback policy.

In 1992, he agreed to pay a $10 million judgment to settle the case.

Federal authorities raided The Tulving Co. last year and seized thousands of rare coins, gold and silver bars and at least one gemstone that could be liquidated to help pay back victims, according to court documents.

Tulving is free on $25,000 bond. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled, according to court records.