Breaking up a “ring” of high-school counterfeiters might have been kid’s stuff for the U.S. Secret Service, but the agency chalked up a much more significant achievement recently when it obtained indictments against 13 members of an international ring allegedly responsible for printing and passing tens of millions of dollars of very high-quality bogus notes.
Coincidentally, that case also involves notes that were printed in New Jersey – though many of the fake bills this time – and the two alleged ringleaders – came from Israel.
The ring was responsible for producing at least $77 million in phony U.S. bills, mostly $100s but also including some $20s, over a 15-year period, according to Secret Service Director Julia Pierson. They were said to be so good they defied detection. And the ring was just as good at eluding apprehension
Secret Service agents had been collecting and analyzing the fake notes since they first popped up in Israel in 1999. They were of such high quality that in many cases, they were discovered only after they reached a bank or the Federal Reserve.
The government’s big break came in May 2012, when Secret Service Agent Adam Gaab came across four of the phony $100s shortly after they had been passed at a Loan Max location in Northern Virginia. This gave the agency a rare opportunity to trace the bills back to the person who had passed them.
“It was the No. 1 note,” said Ed Lowery, special agent in charge of the criminal investigation division of the Secret Service. “You aggressively run out leads on the No. 1 note.”
It still took another two years of intensive investigation – a probe involving hundreds of agents – before the Secret Service finally was able to arrest the 13 suspects, who included both Americans and Israelis. In May and June of this year, agents conducted raids and executed arrest warrants in five Eastern states. They seized $2.5 million in fake bills and a printing plant in a warehouse in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, federal authorities said.
During the course of the 15-year investigation, Secret Service forensic experts linked 17 different versions of the original fake C-note to the same source.
Agents identified the ringleaders as two Russian-speaking Israelis, Itzhak Loz, 46, and Ronin Fakiro, 45. Loz and Fakiro were arrested in May in New York and remained in custody as of Sept. 1.
Authorities said the suspects sold the bogus bills for amounts ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent of their face valus, thus reaping profits in the millions.