August 22, 2005

US breaks up counterfeiting ring, arrests 59

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. authorities seized more than $4
million in high-quality counterfeit $100 bills and Viagra in
sting operations that involved luring suspects to a fake
wedding on a yacht, Justice Department and Homeland Security
officials said on Monday.

The officials said the undercover operations in New Jersey
and across the country broke up an international counterfeiting
and smuggling ring with ties to Asia. They arrested 59 people
on racketeering charges and another 28 were indicted but have
not yet been arrested.

The charges related to an international conspiracy to
launder money and smuggle counterfeit U.S. currency, weapons,
drugs and cigarettes into the United States.

"This essentially was an organization that was willing to
be a one-stop shop for illegal goods," said John Richter,
acting head of the Justice Department's criminal division.

"We seized more than $4 million of highly deceptive
currency. ... And we did it before it could enter circulation
and before it could do damage, any damage, to our economy,"
Richter said.

In New Jersey, the FBI sent invitations to a fake wedding
of two undercover agents, then arrested 42 people as they
arrived for the event which was supposedly going to take place
on a yacht in Atlantic City. Another 17 people were arrested
across the country and the rest have not been arrested.

Authorities seized the fake $100 bills as well as more than
$700,000 worth of counterfeit U.S. postage stamps, $10,000
worth of counterfeit Viagra pills and 36,000 ecstasy pills.

The goods were smuggled into ports in New Jersey and the
Los Angeles area on container ships with false bills of lading
for toys, rattan and plastic furniture and other goods.

Officials said the organization had ties to factories
overseas which were manufacturing counterfeit cigarettes and
smuggling them to the United States in the same manner.

Officials would not give specifics of what Asian countries
were involved, except to say that the counterfeit cigarettes
came from China.

The indictments also charge two people with conspiring to
engage in arms trafficking for setting up a $1 million deal to
sell weapons including silenced pistols, rocket launchers and
silenced sub-machine guns.