The owner of a defunct Inglewood gold and silver coin shop--once one of the nation's largest--was convicted Monday of stealing $380,000 from 17 of his customers.
Jonathon Hefferlin, who rode a boom in precious metals to record more than $400 million in annual sales before declaring bankruptcy in 1981, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced April 29.
Hefferlin, 42, former operator of Jonathon's Coins Inc., was convicted by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert T. Altman after a two-month non-jury trial.
The prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Clifford Klein, said that the 17 customers, whose individual losses ranged from $2,100 to $118,000, were representative of about 1,000 victims who lost at least $7 million when Hefferlin accepted their money but failed to deliver their coins.
Used Customers' Money
The judge found that Hefferlin, who had a severe cash-flow problem, told customers that they would have their coins in four to six weeks, then used their money to meet obligations to other customers whose four-to-six-week waiting periods had expired.
Hefferlin's lawyer, Louis Samonsky, disputed the prosecution's loss estimate and said his client was like many other strapped businessmen who "rob Peter to pay Paul to keep the company solvent."
"There was not a sinister thread to this case," Samonsky said.
Samonsky placed the loss to customers who had paid for their coins in advance at less than $2 million.
Hefferlin was acquitted of 17 other theft charges in which the prosecution alleged that he stole coins from customers who had left them in storage, and stole money from still other customers who had left funds with him for future coin purchases.
Samonsky said that Hefferlin put the stored coins and funds into a common pot that he used to pay overhead and to buy additional coins.
Klein said that these customers were representative of approximately 200 who lost an additional estimated $5 million.
Hefferlin was acquitted of theft charges in connection with the funds left with him for future purchases, because the judge found that he was unaware of laws requiring that such money not be commingled with funds for operating expenses, the prosecutor said.
Klein added that the judge acquitted Hefferlin of theft charges in connection with his use of stored coins because Hefferlin was unaware that his salesmen had told customers that their coins would not be used for his own business purposes.
The defense lawyer said that Hefferlin, once a millionaire, is now about $2 million in debt, mainly because of funds he borrowed to try to keep his business afloat.
He has sold his Santa Monica mansion and a house in Malibu, moved to an apartment and now works for one of his former employees in another coin shop in the old Jonathon's location, Samonsky said. He remains free on $25,000 bail.