Criminal Charges Filed Against U.S. Citizen in Connection with a Multi-Million Dollar International Cyber Counterfeiting Scheme Based in Uganda
U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton for the Western District of Pennsylvania and U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Eric P. Zahren of the Pittsburgh Field Office today announced the filing of a criminal complaint in Pittsburgh charging a U.S. citizen with leading an international counterfeit currency operation headquartered in the Republic of Uganda.
Ryan Andrew Gustafson, aka Jack Farrel, aka Willy Clock, 27, a U.S. citizen currently residing in Kampala, Uganda, was charged with conspiracy and counterfeiting acts committed outside of the U.S. When he lived in the United States, he mainly resided in Texas and Colorado.
“This complicated, international cyber counterfeiting conspiracy was broken as a result of expert investigation by the Secret Service and a total commitment of all cooperating law enforcement to reject the premise that criminals committing cybercrimes in the U.S. – but who reside outside our borders – cannot be reached,” stated U.S. Attorney Hickton. “We will hold cyber criminals accountable and bring them to justice no matter where they reside.”
“This investigation involves the manufacture of counterfeit U.S. currency, which has been the Secret Service’s core mission since 1865,” said Special Agent in Charge Zahren. “Add to that the modern elements of an international counterfeiting conspiracy utilizing new-age, cyber technology, and it represents the full evolution and unique investigative capabilities of today’s Secret Service.”
As detailed in the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, in December 2013, the Secret Service began investigating the passing of counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes (FRNs), believed to be manufactured in Uganda, at Pittsburgh-area retail stores and businesses. Agents determined that an individual identified as J.G. had passed these notes and was renting a postal box at The UPS Store on Pittsburgh’s South Side. On Feb 19, 2014, law enforcement learned that J.G. received three packages addressed from Beyond Computers, located in Kampala, Uganda. Agents executing a search warrant on the packages found $7,000 in counterfeit $100, $50 and $20 FRNs located in two hidden compartments within the packaging envelopes. A fingerprint on a document inside one of the packages was identified as belonging to Ryan Andrew Gustafson.
The Secret Service subsequently worked with Ugandan authorities to identify the source of the counterfeit FRNs. Their efforts led to A.B., who admitted to sending the packages, explaining that an American named “Jack Farrel,” and another person, provided him the counterfeit notes to ship. Based on information provided by A.B., the Secret Service used facial recognition to identify Jack Farrel as Ryan Andrew Gustafson.
According to the affidavit, J.G. met “Willy Clock” on an online criminal forum called Tor Carding Forum. Through private messaging, J.G. and Clock discussed counterfeit currency and J.G. agreed to purchase counterfeit FRNs.
In January 2014, Clock told J.G. that he had established his own online forum called Community-X, a website dedicated to the selling of counterfeit reserve notes. The forum requires a username and password to access the site, and individuals must be invited and approved by Clock to become members. Secret Service used an undercover operative to communicate with Clock through the website, to purchase additional counterfeit $100 FRNs, and to become a re-shipper of counterfeit notes.
In November 2014, the Secret Service executed a search warrant at the residence of another re-shipper, who had been an active member of Community-X. This person cooperated and provided information that a forum member had traveled to Uganda and brought back more than $300,000 in counterfeit notes.
The Secret Service, working with Ugandan authorities, engaged yet another confidential informant, in Uganda, who had knowledge of Jack Farrel and his counterfeiting operations. On Dec. 11 2014, this confidential informant called Farrel to arrange to purchase counterfeit FRNs. The informant met Farrel’s associate and made the buy. Two trusted sources followed the associate back to Farrel’s home and reported the location to the Secret Service who turned it over to the Uganda Special Investigations Unit. Their search of Farrel’s residence netted two million Ugandan shillings from the buy; $180,420 in counterfeit FRNs; counterfeit Euros, Indian Rupees, Ugandan Shillings, Congo Francs, and Ghana Cedis; computers and printers; inks and ink jet cartridges; paper cutters; glue sticks; “Give a Child Hope Today” pamphlets with counterfeit FRNs in between glued together pages; and a pair of “Anon Hands.” Anon Hands are life-like rubber molds that fit like gloves over the user’s hands and are meant to conceal the wearer’s fingerprints. As noted above Farrel has been identified as Gustafson. Evidence collected at the scene also allowed investigators to identify Gustafson as Willy Clock.
Gustafson was charged by Ugandan authorities on Dec. 16 with conspiracy, possession of counterfeit, selling/dealing in counterfeit, and unlawful possession of ammunition. He was brought before the court that day to be informed about the charges; he also is being represented by counsel in Uganda.
U.S. Secret Service estimates $1.8 million in counterfeit FRNs have been seized and passed in Uganda. The total amount of Ugandan-made counterfeit FRNs seized or passed domestically was approximately $270,000. This amount was limited due to early detection by the Secret Service.
U.S. law provides for a maximum total sentence of 25 years in prison, a fine of $500,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
U.S. Attorney Hickton commended numerous agencies and organizations for conducting the investigation leading to charges in this case, including the Directorate of Public Prosecution, the Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Department, the Special Investigations and Intelligence Unit, and Stanbic Bank in Uganda; various domestic and foreign Secret Service Field Offices, including the Rome, Italy, Field Office and the Criminal Investigative Division in Washington, D.C.; the U.S. State Department; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shardul S. Desai is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
A criminal complaint contains charges and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.