US jury charges suspects in Ugandan fake dollar scam

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Destroyed. FBI says they have dismantled an international cyber conspiracy in which Ugandan-made counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes were being advertised


A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State, in the USA has charged four people in connection with printing of more than $1.4 million (Shs4.1 billion) fake dollars in a syndicate that was headquartered in Kampala.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) named the suspects as Zackary L. Ruiz, aka Mr Mouse, 18, a student in Las Vegas, Ryan Andrew Gustafson aka Jack Farrell, alias Willy Clock, 27, a US national living in Uganda, Michael Q. Lin, aka Mlin, aka Mr Casino, 20, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Jeremy Miller, aka Sinner, 30, of Washington. They were indicted on Wednesday for operating an international counterfeit currency operation.

“Today we announce the dismantling of an international cyber conspiracy in which Ugandan-made counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes were being advertised, bought and sold through online criminal forums then passed in coffee shops and corner stores in neighbourhoods across our country,” said US attorney David Hickton.

The grand jury heard that the fake dollar notes, in the denominations of $20, $50 and $100 bills were printed in Kampala, packaged inside boxes of brochures that appeared to be originating from a Christian-based charity for poor children in Uganda.

In a statement issued by FBI-Pittsburg Division, attorney Hickton added that: “Working cooperatively with law enforcement partners in the US and abroad, we were able to quickly infiltrate and disrupt this counterfeit trafficking network and limit losses.”

The arrest
In December 2014, Sunday Monitor broke a story indicating how the fake dollar syndicate had hit local banks hard. This followed the arrest of Mr Ryan, whom local police said was found with bundles of fake $50 bills in his house in Mbalwa, Namugongo in Wakiso District near the capital Kampala.

Police also said Ryan was found in possession of seven money printing machines with different colours of cartridges, three pairs of US army uniforms with inscription “Ryan Andrew” and a US army bag. The arrest came after a transaction in which Stanbic Bank branch in Kakira, Jinja District, was fleeced of $300,000 (about Shs800m) in a fake dollar exchange transaction the previous month.

According to the FBI indictment, in late December 2013, Gustafson created his own dark website called Community-X, which was dedicated to the manufacturing, selling, buying, distribution and passing of counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes. The website contained forums where members discussed the counterfeit bills and shared tips on how best to pass ship and distribute them.

The indictment states that more than $1.4m in counterfeit dollar notes were seized both in the USA and overseas.

“The early and aggressive application of traditional and cyber investigative expertise and the cooperation and assistance of numerous domestic and international law enforcement agencies in this case led to the quick and efficient identification of conspirators in a widespread cyber-based counterfeiting network,” said special agent in charge, Eric P. Zahren of the US Secret Service Pittsburgh Office.

The background

Mr Gustafson was charged in a magistrate’s court in Uganda last year and remanded to Luzira prison on similar offences. He was jointly charged with his local Ugandan counterparts.

Whereas FBI put the total sum of the fabricated dollars at $1.4 million, the Uganda police, at the time of Ryan’s arrest in December, said the amount exceeded $1 billion and had been let out in circulation.