When most of us think of counterfeiting, we think of something like the story from 2009 where someone made change with fake bills in several stores in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We picture rows of wet, newly minted fake bills drying on clotheslines in someone’s basement.
In fact, the United States Secret Service was actually created in 1865 to investigate and prevent counterfeiting. The first federal anti-counterfeiting laws were made in 1790. America’s founding fathers included a clause in the Constitution to grant power to the new government to punish counterfeiting because they knew the country would need to protect its currency. Congress regularly introduces new legislation today as counterfeiting techniques grow more sophisticated.
The Different Faces of Counterfeiting
However, counterfeiting charges can be applied to crimes that have nothing to do with fake bills. Basically, when any good or service is being offered that looks like it originates from a legitimate source, but is in fact an unauthorized reproduction, it is a counterfeit.
In a news story from 2014, you see a different picture of the same crime. Counterfeit goods made in China were seized from a small shop in Eastpointe, Michigan, after a tip was received by police.
Individual states may have their own laws regarding counterfeiting, but since trafficking counterfeit goods is an interstate and international business, it is punished exclusively by the United States Congress. In addition, counterfeiting has become a big business. In the year 2013, Homeland Security seized counterfeit goods valued at over $1.7 billion at U.S. borders.
In order for a fake bill to be counterfeit, it has to be similar enough to the real bill to fool the average person. The law prohibits the possession of technology used to create counterfeit currency – including modern digital technology. It also reaches outside our nation’s borders: if you create fake money outside the US, it is just as illegal as inside. Other “paper” goods considered counterfeit if you try to reproduce them:
- Documents issued by certain lending agencies, such as insured credit unions, land banks, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and the FDIC
- Bonds, bids, contracts, proposals, public records and affidavits made or altered for the purpose of defrauding the United States
- Documents pertaining to imports and the collection of customs duties
- Federal court documents
- Seals of federal agencies
- U.S. postal stamps and meters
- Money orders
- Documents used in identity theft crimes, such as driver licenses
Counterfeit goods can come from, or rather copy, any industry. Many of these items are unsafe, made without proper approval and with substandard parts and pieces and are the product of child or forced labor or organized crime.
- Medications and cigarettes
- Automobile and airplane parts
- Consumer goods
Counterfeiting is a federal felony. In order to secure a conviction, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that what you produced is counterfeit and that you intended to defraud or cheat someone (i.e. use the fake bill as real currency or sell a fake Gucci bag).
The term counterfeiting covers a very wide range of crimes, so it’s almost impossible to sum up what kinds of penalties you may face if you are proven guilty of counterfeiting. Here are the main points:
- The federal law provides for fines of up to $250,000 and a prison sentence of up to 20 years for counterfeiting U.S. obligations and securities.
- Counterfeiting foreign obligations and securities within the United States carries the same penalties.
- The possession of technology to counterfeit US currency carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
- Defendants may get a greater fine – up to double the amount gained or lost in the crime – if the crime results in financial loss to someone else.
- Putting parts of two or more notes together to create a fake note may get you up to 10 years in prison
- Making fraudulent gold or silver bars, or coins over 5 cents may cost you 15 years in prison – although if an unsuccessful attempt was made, you may only face 5 years in prison
- A person caught distributing or manufacturing counterfeit goods could face 5-10 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000 or more depending on the case
- Authorities in such cases may seize all goods, proceeds from sales, as well as any property used in connection with selling counterfeit goods.
- Any persons caught manufacturing counterfeit goods may also face private civil lawsuits brought by companies whose goods were copied
In conclusion, if you are facing federal felony counterfeiting charge, it’s very important that you contact an experienced lawyer to help guide you through the details of your case and give you the best possible defense. Please contact me today.