Four Charged In International Uganda-based Cyber Counterfeiting Scheme
PITTSBURGH – A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh has indicted four people in connection with an international counterfeit currency operation headquartered in the African nation of Uganda, David J. Hickton, United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, announced today.
The indictment, returned on April 1, charges Ryan Andrew Gustafson, aka Jack Farrel, aka Willy Clock, 27, a U.S. citizen currently incarcerated in Kampala, Uganda; Zackary L. Ruiz, aka Mr. Mouse, 18, of Las Vegas, Nevada; Jeremy J. Miller, aka Sinner, 30, of Seattle, Washington; and Michael Q. Lin, aka Mlin, aka Mr. Casino, 20, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with conspiracy and counterfeiting acts committed within and outside of the United States from December 2013 until December 2014.
“Today we announce the dismantling of an international cyber conspiracy in which Ugandan-made counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes were being advertised, bought and sold through online criminal forums then passed in coffee shops and corner stores in neighborhoods across our country,” stated U.S. Attorney Hickton. “Working cooperatively with law enforcement partners in the United States and abroad, we were able to quickly infiltrate and disrupt this counterfeit trafficking network and limit losses.”
“The early and aggressive application of traditional and cyber investigative expertise and the cooperation and assistance of numerous domestic and international law enforcement agencies in this case led to the quick and efficient identification of conspirators in a widespread cyber-based counterfeiting network,” stated Eric P. Zahren, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Secret Service Pittsburgh Field Office, “but as importantly, minimized financial losses in the United States and elsewhere, consistent with our charge to protect our currency, our commerce and, ultimately, our communities.”
According to the indictment, in late December 2013, Ryan Gustafson created his own Dark Web website called Community-X, which was dedicated to the manufacturing, selling, buying, distribution and passing of counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes (FRNs), which he claimed to have manufactured. The website contained forums where members discussed the counterfeit bills and shared tips on how best to pass, ship and distribute counterfeit FRNs.
In September 2014, Gustafson redesigned this website into two different sites, a Community-X HQ site, with controlled access, and a Community-X Recruitment Center site, which was accessible to the public. Gustafson, Ruiz and Miller were active members of both sites. Lin was only a member of the Recruitment Site.
Gustafson and others allegedly sold these counterfeit FRNs to purchasers in the United States. From December 2013 through February 2014, an associate of Gustafson sent DHL packages containing these counterfeit FRNs to individuals in the United States. After February 2014, Gustafson had the counterfeit FRNs smuggled into the United States by hiding the counterfeit FRNs in glued together pages of fake charity pamphlets.
The indictment alleges that Ruiz, Miller and Lin had varied levels of roles and responsibilities as participants in the conspiracy. In particular, the indictment alleges that Ruiz and others unpacked the counterfeit FRNs; that Ruiz, Miller and others treated the counterfeit FRNs to prepare them for passing and used the United States Postal Service to mail the treated FRNs to re-shippers and to purchasers; and that Lin was a purchaser of the FRNs, who offered a guide on how to pass the counterfeit notes through casinos.
The indictment alleges more than $1.4 million in counterfeit FRNs have been seized and passed worldwide, both overseas and in the U.S. as part of this scheme.
Gustafson was charged by Ugandan authorities on Dec. 16, 2014, with conspiracy, possession of counterfeit, selling/dealing in counterfeit, and unlawful possession of ammunition. He is presently on trial in Uganda on their charges.
The law provides for a maximum total sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both, on the conspiracy count; a maximum total sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both, on the conspiracy to commit money laundering count; and a maximum total sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of 250,000, or both, on each of the passing and receiving counterfeit money counts. 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 U.S. Secret Service in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Calif., Seattle, Wash., Las Vegas, Nevada, Philadelphia, Pa., Denver, Colo., Charlotte, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., Phoenix, Ariz., Baltimore, Md., Minnesota, Miami, Fla., Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Ohio, Rome, Italy, Pretoria, South Africa, and the Criminal Investigative Division in Washington, D.C.; the U.S. State Department; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in Pittsburgh, Seattle, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Charlotte; the Federal Bureau of Investigation – Pittsburgh Division; Homeland Security Investigations in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati; 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.
An indictment is an accusation. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.