Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Asian Pacific Islander (API) Workshop: Counterfeit Currency Crime

The fight against counterfeit currency is critical to protecting the residents of Los Angeles. Counterfeit currency is linked to street gangs and other criminal organizations. The fake money enables these organizations to engage in other crimes like drug trafficking, identity theft and terrorism.

In addition, widespread use of counterfeit currency can devastate the small businesses that power our local economy. Unfortunately, in the midst of economic crises, such as the one currently facing our economy, local businesses often see a spike in the circulation of counterfeit currency.

For these reasons, it is vital that members of the community educate themselves on how to identify counterfeit dollars, whom to contact to report counterfeit currency crime and how to be protected, so they are not victimized.

Last week, the City Attorney’s Office hosted its first workshop for members of the API community on counterfeit currency crime.

The event was held at Wilshire United Methodist Church on Wednesday, November 19th with members from the API community and outside the community in attendance, as well as members of the media.

Officials from the United States Secret Service’s Counterfeit Currency Section were on hand with a presentation entitled, “How to Detect Counterfeit Currency.”

The United States Secret Service (USSS) presentation included practical tips on how to protect oneself from counterfeit money, information on physical tools to assist in spotting counterfeit currency, and a discussion of counterfeiting “myths.”

To round out the event, the City Attorney’s Identity Theft and Fraud Unit provided an overview on how law enforcement conducts their investigations and prosecutions as well as an explanation of the court process in identity theft and fraud crimes.

The circulation of counterfeit currency affects every level of commerce from neighborhood Mom & Pop stores, to banks and large retail stores, which is why the City Attorney’s Office, alongside attorneys from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and the US Attorney’s Office work diligently to prosecute those who are involved in manufacturing and distributing counterfeit currency.

In 2006, the City Attorney’s Office charged three men for passing counterfeit currency at LAX. One of the defendants admitted to knowing how and where to buy the counterfeits. He told authorities that for $400, he was able buy $1,000 worth of counterfeit currency in $100 bills.

He conspired with 2 additional defendants, one who worked at an LAX vending food store, to buy food using the fake $100 bills and thus, laundering the money. Secret Service agents arrested one defendant and used an undercover operation to capture the other two.

Working collaboratively with the LAPD and USSS on another case that same year, the City Attorney was able to charge a man for illegally manufacturing and selling counterfeit currency.

A suspect, who was arrested by LAPD at Universal City-City Walk for passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a cell phone store, was used in an undercover operation to target at the creator of the counterfeit currency.

As a result of the sting operation, Secret Service agents were able to follow the seller to his residence and, upon execution of a search warrant, discover the computer equipment used to produce the counterfeit currency.

The City Attorney’s Office would like to again thank the Asian American Chamber Association, GSD Partners, Inc., LA County Sheriff’s Department - Youth Foundation, Korean American Federation, the volunteer interpreters and the Asian Professional Exchange for their efforts in partnering to make this a success.