4 charged in Uganda-based coun­ter­feit United States cur­rency scheme


A fed­eral jury has in­di­cated four men in a Uganda-based scheme that led to US$1.5 mil­lion in high-qual­ity coun­ter­feit cur­rency be­ing shipped to and passed in the United States, au­thor­i­ties an­nounced Thurs­day.

The in­dict­ment by the jury in Pitts­burgh al­leges the bo­gus money was man­u­fac­tured in Uganda and pack­aged in­side boxes of brochures that ap­peared to be from a Chris­tian-based char­ity for poor African chil­dren.

Ryan An­drew Gustafson, 27, of Uganda, is ac­cused of pro­duc­ing fake US$20, US$50 and US$100 bills and sell­ing them through an on­line group, Com­mu­nity-X, he cre­ated on the so-called “dark Web” — a net­work of en­crypted In­ter­net sites that al­low users to re­main anony­mous.

“The dark part of the In­ter­net where they were pro­ceed­ing is not a safe place for the crim­i­nals be­cause we can get there now,” U.S. At­tor­ney David Hick­ton of Pitts­burgh told The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Gustafson and the oth­ers are charged with con­spir­ing to com­mit of­fenses against the United States, specif­i­cally coun­ter­feit­ing, among other crimes. He has been in cus­tody since De­cem­ber on fed­eral charges re­it­er­ated in the in­dict­ment and on sep­a­rate coun­ter­feit­ing counts brought by Ugan­dan au­thor­i­ties.

The three new de­fen­dants charged are Zackary Ruiz, 18, of Las Ve­gas; Michael Lin, 20, of Beth­le­hem, Penn­syl­va­nia; and Jeremy Miller, 30, of Seat­tle. Court sum­monses were mailed Thurs­day order­ing them to ap­pear be­fore a fed­eral mag­is­trate in Pitts­burgh on April 22.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­dict­ment, Ruiz, a high school stu­dent also known as Mr. Mouse, and Miller, aka Sin­ner, bought and then dis­trib­uted fake U.S. cur­rency that was printed and shipped to them by Gustafson. The bills were in­side pam­phlets that had been glued to­gether, and those who re­ceived the packages were told to dis­solve the glue in wa­ter to re­lease the money, pros­e­cu­tors said.

Lin, aka Mr. Casino, al­legedly re­ceived and passed some of the bills and “of­fered on Com­mu­nity-X a guide that he wrote de­tail­ing how to suc­cess­fully pass coun­ter­feit Fed­eral Re­serve Notes at casi­nos,” the in­dict­ment said.

The doc­u­ment doesn’t say where the bills were passed, but pro­vides a few de­tails about how and where the bills were shipped in the United States. More than US$180,000 in U.S. cur­rency was seized when Gustafson was ar­rested in Uganda in De­cem­ber, more than US$400,000 was shipped to the United States and more than US$1 mil­lion was shipped to other for­eign coun­tries, au­thor­i­ties said.

Ruiz posted an ad on Red­dit.com ti­tled “Dis­ney Dol­lars by Mr. Mouse Pro­duced by Willy Clock” — one of Gustafson’s aliases, the in­dict­ment said.

Fed­eral court records don’t list at­tor­neys for any of the de­fen­dants, and the AP could not im­me­di­ately con­firm tele­phone num­bers for them. A mes­sage sent to a Face­book page be­lieved to be­long to Ruiz wasn’t im­me­di­ately re­turned Thurs­day, and calls to num­bers be­lieved to be linked to the oth­ers went to dis­con­nected phones or were not re­turned.

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