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4 charged in Uganda-based counterfeit US currency scheme

April 2, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A federal jury has indicated four men in a Uganda-based scheme that led to $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 $20, $50 and $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 $180,000 in U.S. currency was seized when Gustafson was arrested in Uganda in December, more than $400,000 was shipped to the United States and more than $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.

Update hourly