Feds: Uganda-based man counterfeited $2M in cash

AP News
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Posted: Dec 18, 2014 4:01 PM
Feds: Uganda-based man counterfeited $2M in cash

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Federal authorities have charged a man with leading a multimillion-dollar international counterfeit money operation based in Uganda and shipping bogus bills to the United States.

Ryan Andrew Gustafson was charged with conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States and counterfeiting acts committed outside the U.S., authorities said.

"In short, these bills were being bought and sold in cyberspace," U.S. Attorney David Hickton said Thursday.

Gustafson was arrested Dec. 11 in Uganda, and investigators said they seized sophisticated printers and other equipment used to make the high-quality fake $20, $50 and $100 bills. Authorities said he made more than $2 million in U.S. currency, most of it passed in Uganda, but about $270,000 of which was shipped to the United States.

Ugandan and U.S. authorities said they also found counterfeit Euros, Indian rupees and currency from Uganda, Congo and Ghana when Gustafson was arrested.

The scheme unraveled when a fake $100 bill passed at a Pittsburgh coffee shop last December was detected by bank employees, authorities said.

Hickton and Eric Zahren, the special agent-in-charge of Pittsburgh's U.S. Secret Service office, said investigators traced that bill to a Pittsburgh man and further investigation determined Gustafson was shipping the bills to others in Florida, Minnesota, Texas and Washington. They said about $30,000 in counterfeit bills was passed in the Pittsburgh area.

Hickton and Zahren didn't say who in Pittsburgh received the money, but he's identified by the initials J.G. in the Gustafson complaint and as Joseph Graziano Jr. in court documents relating to two pending fraud cases.

No attorney or address was listed for Gustafson in court records. Graziano's attorney, Martin Dietz, declined to comment. Hickton said Gustafson will be returned to the U.S. after Ugandan officials prosecute him on counterfeiting charges.

The Gustafson complaint said he offered the counterfeit money for sale on encrypted Internet forums. Graziano is accused in one transaction of sending Gustafson $1,500 in real currency in exchange for $4,000 worth of fake bills.

The money was glued inside charitable Save the Children pamphlets, and, investigators contend, Gustafson used a pair of rubber gloves modeled after his own hands to prepare the packages so he would not leave fingerprints. Despite that, Zahren said, Gustafson was tied to one of the packages by a fingerprint.

The money shipments also were sent through a series of unidentified people who relayed them through the mail. When the packages were received, a person was instructed to place the pamphlets in hot water to dissolve glue and free the money.

The investigation grew out of unrelated cases against Graziano.

Court documents in those cases allege Graziano received packages from Uganda containing counterfeit money earlier this year while he was free on bond awaiting trial, which prompted federal authorities to revoke his bond and arrest him.

Graziano, a former trust administrator with Bank of New York Mellon, is charged with stealing more than $2.4 million from customer accounts and with offering computers on eBay but mailing customers empty packages after receiving payment.