What began as an investigation into some counterfeit $20 bills at a Seal Beach toy store became a national probe into a gang-related fraud scheme, authorities said.
Federal and local investigators say they found bogus money totaling $100,000 in more than 50 cities across the United States, and in Jamaica.
On Thursday, eight people in Los Angeles were arrested for their alleged involvement in the scheme, which could have begun in 2013, according to the Seal Beach Police Department.
The five women and three men -- many of whom have ties to L.A. street gangs -- are accused of using counterfeit bills to purchase gift cards and merchandise at big-box stores like Nordstrom and Target, police said. The suspects typically spent between $500 and $1,000 at a time, then return the items for cash refunds, police said.
About 200 law enforcement professionals, including agents with the U.S. Secret Service, served search warrants at 15 sites in Southern California on Thursday and seized computers, counterfeit bills and weapons, police said.
Brittney Nelson, 26; Porsche Jackson, 35; Brandon Adams, 21; Caleb Anaya, 21; Jamellah Joseph, 32; Ajsha Tackwood, 26; Jesus Romero, 25; and Angela Uzondu, 28, were taken into police custody during the massive arrest operation dubbed “Operation Money Wash.”
Each faces burglary and conspiracy charges.
It’s unclear if any of those arrested were involved in the production of the fake money. Seal Beach police Sgt. Phil Gonshak told KCBS-TV Channel 2 that the faux bills were likely produced with ordinary ink-jet printers and laptop computers.
He added: “You’re able to make a dollar bill look just as real online, if not sometimes better, than the real one.”
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