Last week’s indictment of the alleged ringleaders of one of the most successful counterfeiting operations in US history offers a rare window into the US Secret Service’s far-reaching efforts to combat counterfeit currency.
The case centers around a counterfeit $100 bill that’s legendary in law enforcement circles. Known to agents as the “Russian-Israeli note,” it had stumped them since 1999, US Secret Service director Julia Pierson told Bloomberg, and the ring making it produced at least $77 million in fake notes, mostly $100 bills.
In 2012, the agency caught a lucky break at a title loan shop in Northern Virginia, where the fakes were detected shortly after being passed, Bloomberg reports. The bills led to an informant. Two years of surveillance and wiretaps led agents to Israel, and culminated in a series of raids and warrants in May and June that lead to the capture of 13 suspects, $2.5 million in seized bills, and a printing press in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The alleged ringleaders, Itzhak Loz, 46, and Ronin Fakiro, 45, were indicted last week.
Counterfeit currency is a surprisingly common and lucrative business, despite technological efforts to combat it. The US Secret Service recovered $156 million in counterfeit dollars and arrested 2,668 people for faking currency last year. The agency’s most recent annual report (PDF) discusses Project South America, where it oversaw operations in Colombia and Peru and seized more than $40 million in counterfeit currency. The service shut down 262 counterfeit manufacturing plants last year.
Still, this ring and the bills it produced are particularly impressive for their sophistication and longevity. The bills were so good that they were almost never caught at the point they were passed. Even after the US recently redesigned the $100 bill with a state-of-the-art 3D security ribbon, the counterfeiters had come close to replicating it, Bloomberg reports.
The counterfeiters were looking to ramp up production by moving printing into the United States proper. Agents were watching in February as a tractor trailer unloaded a printing press shipped from Israel into the New Jersey warehouse.