A 28-year-old Minnesota man has been charged with a felony after selling counterfeit coins to three pawn shops in the greater Minneapolis area, according to a recent statement issued by the Industry Council for Tangible Assets (ICTA).
Eric Michael Johnson could face a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and/or a fine of $10,000 USD. Johnson was arrested this February by Minnesota Department of Commerce Special Agent Joseph K. Boche, who visited the Anoka Pawn America shop to gather video surveillance and verify the coins sold by Johnson to the shop were indeed fake.
At the time of Boche’s visit, Johnson was at the shop attempting to sell a 2009-P Australian gold $100 Kangaroo graded Mint State-69 and encapsulated in a Numismatic Guaranty Corp. holder. Both the coin and the holder were later determined to be counterfeit.
PURCHASED FROM ALI EXPRESS
According to the complaint, Johnson admitted to purchasing the counterfeits from the Chinese online wholesaler aliexpress.com. He also admitted to purchasing the fake Australian gold coin for $115 USD and attempting to sell it for $900 USD to make a profit.
Boche opened his investigation into counterfeit coins being sold in the Minneapolis area after a collector claimed he purchased a 1909-O $5 Indian Head half eagle in a Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) holder for $4,999 USD plus tax from Pawn America located in the city of St. Cloud.
According to the ITCA release, the collector fell on ice on his way home and the top corner of the PCGS holder broke off. He went to a local coin shop in an attempt to return the coin to the grading service so it could be re-encapsulated; however, one week later, the shop notified him the coin could not be re-certified because it was counterfeit. The PCGS holder was also determined to be fake.
Boche checked the Automated Property System and discovered Johnson sold the coin to Pawn America. Boche also learned Johnson had sold six rare U.S. gold coins encapsulated in NGC and PCGS slabs and a Perth Mint gold bar to local pawn shops since June 2016. All of the items were determined to be counterfeit and later seized by law enforcement.
According to the complaint, the total value of the transactions completed by the Johnson was $4,340.50 USD. If the coins were genuine, their value would have been much greater (for example, a 1929 Indian Head half eagle in MS-62 has a market value of $42,500 USD).
ANTI-COUNTERFEITING TASK FORCE
“While this may appear to be a small case, it is important to understand that this type of illegal activity is happening throughout the United States,” said Beth Deisher, director of anti-counterfeiting at the ICTA. “The ease with which dishonest people can order counterfeit coins and bars from China and sell them in the United States makes it a crime of opportunity.”
The ICTA’s Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force is working with law enforcement on all levels to bring counterfeiters and those who traffic in counterfeits to justice. A member of the Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force played a role in apprehending the defendant in this case.
Deisher noted if you are offered coins at below market value, particularly from a Chinese seller online or from people you don’t know in the U.S., there is “a high probability the coins and bars are counterfeit.”
“It’s best to deal with professional coin dealers whose credentials you can check and from those who have been in business for years,” she added.