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Monday, September 10, 2012

South American cartels linked to counterfeit bills in Athens, again

Quinn Michael Gibson
  • Quinn Michael Gibson
An Athens man plead guilty last week to smuggling more than $14,000 in counterfeit bills from Ecuador to Georgia, offering a glimpse into a South American counterfeiting scheme that continues to flood the United States — Georgia included — with fake currency.

The 24-year-old suspect’s guilty plea in federal court Wednesday was the latest in series of Georgia convictions involving phony Federal Reserve Notes, or FRNs, over the past few years, the Athens Banner-Herald reported.

Last year, authorities in Athens broke up a smuggling ring that flooded the area with fake $100 bills during Fourth of July weekend, when busy cashiers would be less likely to look closely at the bills.

In both cases, the production of the fake cash was traced back to organized crime families in Peru.

Over the years Peru has grown into the counterfeit capital of the world, accounting for some 17 percent of counterfeit currency circulating in the U.S., the Banner-Herald reported.

“According to (a Secret Service agent), the bills are originating out of Peru and are being printed by the organized crime families in that area, basically the drug cartels,” an affidavit written by an Athens-Clarke detective last year and obtained by the Banner-Herald said.

In fact, the problem has gotten so bad that federal authorities has partnered with their Peruvian counterparts to form the Peruvian Counterfeit Task Force (PCTF).

"To date, PCTF operations have led to 92 arrests, 11 counterfeit plant suppressions, and the seizure of over $37.4 million in counterfeit currency," Mark Sullivan, the agency’s director, told a congressional subcommittee earlier this year.

Athens authorities initially charged suspect Quinn Michael Gibson with forgery, but federal authorities later picked up the case and pursued the South American connection. A Secret Service agent examining the bills verified they were they were the same type of counterfeit bills known to originate in Peru, according to the Banner-Herald.

In court, Gibson admitted to obtaining the fake $20 and $50 bills in Ecuador and smuggling them back into a the States inside a video cassette recorder.

He faces up to 20 years in prison, but was not immediately sentenced following the conviction.

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