Les Camerounais et le faux aux USA
FBI takes over probe of suspected counterfeiting ring
By Carl Prine
Friday, April 1, 2005
A gang of heavily armed Middle Eastern and African men accused of seeking to manufacture counterfeit bills in a Beaver County motel have been taken to Ohio for questioning by the FBI.
In Youngstown, investigators from the FBI, Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement hope to untangle what they believe was a complicated plot to either print millions of bogus dollars or bilk two men out of their money.
Agents still don’t know the real names or nationalities of two African suspects. Homeland Security previously had criminal "holds" on the pair, warning all law enforcement agencies to detain them immediately, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
On Thursday, federal warrants alleging weapons violations, forgery and concocting an interstate criminal conspiracy were served in Beaver County on a Syrian national, Ibrahim Saloum, 34, of Youngstown; Amy Velazquez, 22, of Youngstown; and the two Africans, both 28, whose names are believed to be Georges Leussi and Serge Sukam Fotso. Those names were traced to addresses in Silver Spring, Md.
"Because the crimes appear to have begun in Youngstown, we thought we should take over," said FBI supervisory special agent John Lichtefeld. He declined to say whether any of the suspects is being investigated for having ties to terrorism.
Emad Shok, 20, of New Castle, Lawrence County, will remain in the Beaver County Jail in Hopewell. The Kuwaiti native is charged with illegally carrying a semi-automatic pistol and a .357-caliber Magnum revolver seized during a raid by state police in Big Beaver late Friday.
Police uncovered the suspected ring after responding to an unrelated road rage report at Danny’s Motel, just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Trooper Ray Miller said he turned his cruiser into the motel parking lot near Room 9, startling Leussi, who screamed, "Police! Police!" before fleeing down Big Beaver Boulevard.
According to Miller, Saloum, Shok, Velazquez and Fotso tried to run from the motel, but he held them at gunpoint. Searching Shok and Saloum, he uncovered three handguns and ammunition, Miller said. Inside the room, officers found a large bottle with a "white, milky substance," red gasoline cans, tubing, foil, several suitcases and what Saloum told police was $180,000 in cash steeping in a brine, according to court documents.
Troopers caught Leussi later as he tried to speed away on the turnpike.
Police never caught the driver who prompted the road rage call.
Saloum, a gas station manager who had checked into the motel under the name "Abe Solomon," confessed that Velazquez drove him, Shok and the money to the Africans so that they could bleach the bills and then reprint them with larger denominations, according to police reports.
Detectives have been unable to trace the serial numbers on the Arabs’ pistols, however, or determine where the cash came from, said Pennsylvania state police Detective Robert Tempalski.
"Shok has been the most cooperative," Tempalski said. "He’s ready to plead guilty now on the gun charges."
But detectives say they had a much tougher time with the Africans. Fotso first claimed he was Stephane Yves Kuamba, a middle-aged immigrant from Cameroon living in Maryland. Later, he said he’s from Congo, although "Fotso" is a common name in the Banjoun tribe in northwestern Cameroon.
Leussi’s Maryland driver’s license showed him to be "Herve Noutcha Nana" of Silver Spring. During a telephone interview yesterday, the real Nana told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he was a victim of identity theft.
"I know a ‘Georges’ but I don’t know if he’s the same one," said Nana, 28. "I’m just a student. I’ve never been to Pittsburgh."
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