PITTSBURGH (AP) — An American deported from Uganda and charged in a massive counterfeiting scheme waived his right to a detention hearing Thursday after federal prosecutors argued he was a threat to flee to the African nation because his wife is the granddaughter of late dictator Idi Amin.
Assistant U. S. Attorney Shardul Desai also argued in an 11-page motion that 28-year-old Ryan Gustafson's father-in-law — Amin's son — remains a powerful figure in the national government, that Gustafson has refused to surrender his passport, and even faked having tuberculosis to try to keep from being deported last week.
By waiving his right to Thursday's detention hearing before a federal magistrate in Pittsburgh, Gustafson will remain jailed until further notice. His defense attorney, Stephen Misko, told the magistrate that he may seek Gustafson's release later, however.
Outside the courtroom, Misko told The Associated Press that he doesn't necessarily dispute the government's factual claims, but said their conclusion that Gustafson would flee is wrong. Misko said prosecutors primarily seek detention in violent crimes. Had the hearing continued, the prosecutor would have had to prove that Gustafson was either too dangerous to release on bail, or too likely to flee prosecution.
Misko dismissed the government's concerns about Gustafson's ties to Amin, a strongman who whose corrupt, nepotistic regime human rights observers say slaughtered up to 500,000 people from 1971 to 1979. Amin was exiled and died in Saudi Arabia in 2003.
"How long has Idi Amin been dead?" Misko said. "This is a counterfeiting crime. A non-violent offense."
Gustafson is charged with using sophisticated computer equipment and printers to make at least $1.4 million in fake U.S. currency while living in Uganda over the past several years. He allegedly shipped the money to people who purchased it over Community-X, an encrypted Internet site Gustafson allegedly created that enabled users to remain anonymous.
Gustafson was indicted in western Pennsylvania because roughly $400,000 in bogus bills were sold and shipped to the U.S. where they were passed, prosecutors said. The scheme unraveled when a bogus $100 passed at a Pittsburgh coffee shop was traced to a man who was prosecuted in that and other scams, then became a cooperating witness who fingered Gustafson.
The bills were shipped in pamphlets purporting to be from a charity that benefited poor African children. The bills were glued between the pamphlets, but soaking them in water dissolved the glue and freed the bills, prosecutors said.
That's an ironic wrinkle in that Desai said Gustafson's parents have been Christian missionaries to Uganda, where Gustafson spent some time growing up, and now Rwanda, the motion said.
Gustafson was born in Montana and lived in Colorado and Texas when not accompanying his missionary parents, Desai's motion said.
He married Sherry Amin Gustafson, who gave birth to their daughter two years ago. She's the daughter of Taban Amin, who is identified only as "a high-ranking official in the Ugandan government" in Desai's motion.
Numerous media accounts say the former Army officer was appointed deputy director of Uganda's internal security organization by President Yoweri Museveni in 2006.
Desai argued in the motion that Gustafson has fled prosecution before, failing to appear in court on forgery charges in Colorado in 2010 before moving to Uganda. A magistrate there ordered him deported to face the U.S. counterfeiting charges after Gustafson was also charged with counterfeiting Ugandan currency.
While in Uganda, Gustafson allegedly offered an official taking him to jail a bribe of 50 million Ugandan shillings — about $14,600, Desai said. Gustafson also claimed to have tuberculosis, and had his Ugandan attorneys block a medical exam before a court-ordered exam "showed no evidence of tuberculosis," the motion said.