Page last updated at 17:34 GMT, Friday, 27 March 2009

Fake cash gang 'run as business'

By Peter Jackson
BBC News

Fake 20 banknotes
These old-style 20 notes were "foiled" and "finished" in a second-floor flat

Five men have been jailed and a sixth given a suspended sentence after admitted running a £5m counterfeit currency operation "like a successful business".

They were convicted of various counterfeiting charges. Two more gang members will be sentenced next month and three others were acquitted.

The men from London ranged in ages from 29 to 83, but each shared a single common purpose - the business of producing money.

For 10 months officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) secretly watched, monitored and recorded the gang of eight run a "highly specialised" operation.

'Hologram Tam'

The counterfeiters used high quality equipment to print on a grand scale and produced what were said to be among the most realistic notes ever seized.

The Bank of England itself said they were "professionally produced" notes.

Doing the 50s should round-up around 10 grand a week
Gang member (overheard by Soca)
February 2007

In October 2006 they began working with Thomas McAnea, 58, a Glaswegian printer and veteran forger known as "Hologram Tam", who was jailed in 2007.

But the operation soon moved to London with the purchase of a £9,000 foiling machine for inserting metal strips in the notes.

The gang, which had an average age of 57, was capable of earning or producing £10,000 a week, according to Soca's surveillance.

'Operation guitar'

In February 2007, its officers overheard one of the men saying "doing the 50s should round-up around 10 grand a week".

The operation was run "exactly like a successful business" from its "senior managers" down to its "distributors", according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

George Short, 56, of Cumbernauld, Glasgow, was accused of being the "chief executive" and financier who oversaw the whole operation.

Fake 20 banknotes
Part of the haul of 600,000 in fake 20 notes found in a London garage

But he was cleared of all four conspiracies at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

Two charges variously alleged the making of counterfeit £20 and 50 euro notes with intent and two claimed he planned to deliver them with intent.

Two other men, Mark Fish, 31, from east London and Kevin Carr, 32, from Glasgow were also cleared of all counterfeiting charges. All three had pleaded not guilty.

Angus Weaver, 52, from east London, and Tony Rees, 46, from Essex, were the gang's senior managers who were "significant" in distribution.

Sheriff Oki, 29, from London was the Information Technology (IT) expert who had attended computing courses at university.

He used his expertise to set up the printing system and used scans of images taken from genuine £20 notes, the court had heard.

Michael Duffy, 60, from Chiswick handled, carried and stored some of the notes.

Foiling machine
The foiling machine in Hancox's Chiswick flat, used to finish the notes

At 83, widower Dennis Hancox was the eldest. He allowed his second-floor flat in Chiswick, west London, to be used for "foiling" and finishing the notes.

His lounge became a makeshift factory, running a printer and a large compressor that was so noisy the pensioner discussed buying a muffler.

Other members of the gang were involved in meetings and drop-offs.

The men were monitored, under codename Operation Guitar, at various venues across the capital including South Acton Working Men's Club, Claridge's hotel and pubs.

CHECK YOUR NOTES ARE GENUINE
20 banknotes
The unique paper and raised print can be felt with a finger
All notes have embedded metallic thread seen as silver dashes on the back except on the £50, where they appear on the front. They appear as continuous dark lines in the light
Watermarks show the Queen's portrait. The new-style £20 also shows the figure 20
Printed lines and colours should be sharp, clear and free from smudges or blurred edges
Foil patches contain holograms changing between Britannia and the note's numerical value
The new-style £20 has a holographic strip plus the figure 20 embossed to the right of the chief cashier's signature
Values appear in bright red and green numbers under a good quality ultra-violet light
Values can be seen in microlettering under the Queen's portrait using a magnifying glass
Source: Bank of England

It is thought they chose to produce mainly 50 euro notes because they have a wider market to sell on to. The estimated sale price of a fake £20 note was around £3.50.

Soca's lead investigating officer said it was "naive" to think there had been no money-laundering operation, but there was no evidence to prove it.

By June 2007 production at Hancox's flat was scaled down and on 26 July officers moved in, arresting most of the gang.

Officers recovered £600,000 worth of unfinished £20 notes from the Chiswick address of Duffy, 60, and more than £1m worth of unfinished 50 euro notes from Rees's garage in Hackney, east London.

But they eventually recovered an additional £3.4m worth of 50 euro notes, bringing the total face value of all fakes linked to the gang to more than £5m.

Soca director general Bill Hughes said: "This was a top tier gang, producing high quality fakes, and operating like a business... they were set to make a substantial profit and cause significant harm."

CPS spokeswoman Jenny Hopkins said: "It was a challenging case because of the size of the conspiracy and the volume of material."

She said a financial investigation which aimed to confiscate some of the assets of the gang members was ongoing.

The co-ordinated investigation also included input from the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency to help shut down one of the most organised, professional gangs of its kind.

A Bank of England spokesman said it had not been a victimless crime, with real people and business affected, and urged people worried about fake notes to check their security features.

It is still unclear exactly how many bogus notes got into circulation.

Counterfeit currency gang
Weaver: Senior manager and fixer who bought the £9,000 foiling machine
Hancox: At 83, the eldest. His flat contained machines to finish the notes
O'Flynn: The 69-year-old from Bedfordshire was arrested in July 2007
Watson: An associate of Rees with connections in Glasgow and east London
Duffy: £600,000 worth of fake £20 notes were found at his London address
Oki: IT specialist whose expertise helped replicate the metallic strips on notes
Rees: Significant figure whose garage contained more than £1m in fake euros
Allam: West Londoner, 59, observed with Duffy passing bags and boxes




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