Counterfeiting + Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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In one form or another, counterfeiting has existed for hundreds of years and is still a problem today. There are two main types of counterfeiting crimes that are commonly committed today – counterfeiting currency, and counterfeiting goods. Both are very serious and will be charged as felonies. Additionally, the specific situation could bring even heavier charges – simply possession a few counterfeit bills may not be charged as seriously as attempting to traffic counterfeit goods across international borders, for instance.

Counterfeiting Laws

Counterfeiting laws are very strict and very serious. Counterfeiting money is still the most popular method of counterfeiting, but is growing increasingly difficult in the US due to newly designed bills. Counterfeit documents are usually charged as fraud or forgery instead of outright counterfeiting, but the two definitions blur together frequently in the case of documents and in the case of goods and products.

Clothing is regularly counterfeited, and as a result is another area of the law that is being increasingly cracked down on. Laws on counterfeiting are covered under Title 18, Chapter 25 of the US code. Section 471 focuses on the counterfeiting of securities of the US, and puts forth a very harsh penalty of fines and up to 20 years in prison. Subsequent sections in the code focus on all other manner of counterfeiting, from obligations and securities to military passes and more.

Counterfeiting is a federal crime, and knowingly trying to pass counterfeit bills or goods off as real, creating counterfeit items, trafficking them, or having any other relation to counterfeit items will result in felony charges in almost all instances. Something as simple as placing a label on a shirt that bears another item’s Trademark could lead to counterfeit charges.

Counterfeiting Crimes and Charges

Essentially, creating a phony copy of anything and attempting to pass it off as the real things will be considered counterfeiting. While charges of duplicating US securities and obligations are the most serious counterfeiting offenses, any other counterfeiting crimes will be very serious as well and in all cases will be considered felonies.

  • The counterfeiting of US securities including currency and obligations will lead to fines of up to $250,000 and up to 20 years in prison.
  • When foreign obligation and securities are counterfeited, prison sentences can reach 25 years or more
  • Counterfeiting goods, such as adding a tag to a shirt with a well-known trademark like Gucci or Gap, and selling them for a profit will also bring felony charges similar to those associated with counterfeiting US securities.

Counterfeiting Punishment

The punishments for counterfeiting anything are very harsh, and those convicted of this crime will be convicted of a felony. As mentioned above, fines can reach $250,000 and prison sentences can reach 20 or even 25 years in some cases. Additionally, if financial gain or loss occurs to someone other than the defendant then sentences can be even heavier, with up to double the amount gained or lost in the crime serving as the fine and up to 25 years in prison possible. Additionally, the specific nature of the counterfeit item itself could have an impact on sentencing. For instance, those who combine parts of multiple notes together will face up to 10 years in prison instead of 20, while counterfeiting gold bars or coins may face up to 15 years. As with most crimes, the specifics of the crime will have a major impact on the final sentence.

Counterfeiting Sentencing Guidelines

Today’s counterfeit sentencing guidelines are laid out in sections 2B5.1 and 2B5.3 of the sentencing code. Similar processes are used in the case of counterfeit bills, wherein the amount of face money is used to determine the severity of the punishment. Other factors can be used to influence the sentence including previous criminal histories. The base offense level for counterfeiting is a 9, and then additional points are added based on other aspects of the crime.

Counterfeiting Statute of Limitations

As a federal law, the statute of limitations for counterfeiting doesn’t change on a state to state basis. Generally, the statute of limitations is 5 years. However, certain instances that are considered to be related to terrorism may come with a statute of limitations of 8 years.

Counterfeiting Cases

There have been numerous well-known cases of counterfeiting over the years including:

  • Actor Louis Gross, who played a role on the TV series The Sopranos, was arrested in 2013 and charged with attempting to pass off fake bills in New York.
  • Edward Mueller spent more than 10 years passing off fake 1 dollar bills, and had a film – Mister 880 – based on his crimes
  • Arthur Williams was caught and convicted in 2002, and over a period of 10 years had printed more than 10 million dollars in counterfeit money.

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