Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, January 24, 2011


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Ninth Circuit Affirms Conviction in ‘Supernotes’ Conspiracy




The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday affirmed the conviction of a former San Marino resident imprisoned for conspiracy to pass high-quality counterfeit $100 bills, rejecting his claim that he was denied a speedy trial.

A nine-month delay resulting from the indictment of Chen Chiang Liu’s wife—who was ultimately acquitted—was not deliberately effectuated in order to prevent Liu’s case from getting to trial on time, nor was it unreasonable given the complexity of the conspiracy, Judge Richard Tallman wrote for the court.

U.S. District Judge James Mahan of the District of Nevada sentenced Liu in 2009 to 12 years, seven months in prison. He was arrested in August 2005, three days after a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Liu and three others for conspiracy to “make, deal, and possess counterfeit currency” and to “buy, sell, exchange, transfer, receive, and deliver counterfeited obligations and securities.”

The government’s evidence showed that Liu and others had met with an undercover agent numerous times over a 16-month period, during which the agent received two separate shipments of $100 “supernotes,” sent from contacts of the conspirators in either Russia or North Korea.

 The notes were printed on the same type of expensive printing presses used by the federal government, giving them a look and feel generally indistinguishable from real currency.

The counterfeits were so perfect, according to testimony, that Liu was able to pass them through Las Vegas slot machines and money counters undetected, and that when the agent passed along $20,000 in genuine bills as Liu’s supposed share of the first shipment, he didn’t realized they weren’t fakes.

In July 2007, Liu—who was on pretrial release—and his wife were arrested in Las Vegas after attempting to pass counterfeits through slot machines. In April 2008, after several mutual continuances, the original indictment was dismissed because Liu and his wife had been named in a superseding indictment in the District of Nevada, alleging a broader and lengthier conspiracy than that charged in the original indictment.

Liu moved to dismiss under the Speedy Trial Act, which requires that a defendant who pleads not guilty be brought to trial within 70 days of indictment or first appearance, whichever is later. Mahan denied the motion, ruling that the clock did not run prior to the filing of the Nevada indictment because the California indictment alleged a different crime.

Because one of the other defendants had died and the others had entered pleas in California, Liu and his wife were the sole defendants who went to trial. Min Li Liu was granted a judgment of acquittal after the prosecution rested, the judge finding that she had no knowledge of or involvement in the conspiracy.

Her husband was found guilty of conspiracy and of fraudulent possession of counterfeit currency, and was sentenced in March 2009.

On appeal, Liu—represented by the federal public defender—argued that the case should have been dismissed under the Speedy Trial Act.

But Tallman, writing for the Ninth Circuit, said that the motion was properly dismissed even if the clock began to run when Liu appeared in court in Los Angeles on Aug. 22, 2005.

Under Ninth Circuit precedent, the jurist explained, the addition of a new defendant to an indictment resets the speedy trial clock for all defendants absent unreasonable delay or bad faith.

The delay in indicting Min Li Liu was reasonable, Tallman wrote, given the complexity of the international conspiracy, the extensive investigation, and the fact that the conspiracy, and Liu’s involvement in it, continued after the original indictment.

The government, the judge noted, had no basis to arrest Min Li Liu before the day of her arrest.

“The nine-month delay between the day Min Li was arrested and the filing of the [second superseding indictment] in Nevada adding her to the conspiracy first outlined in the California indictment is reasonable given the multijurisdictional nature, the continuation of new illegal acts in furtherance, and the difficulty of investigating this farflung conspiracy,” Tallman concluded.

The judge also rejected the defense claim that the lack of an instruction requiring the jury to unanimously agree that the defendant committed a specific overt act in support of the conspiracy necessitates reversal.

It is “not clear,” Tallman wrote, that such an instruction is required in the Ninth Circuit. But even if it is, he said, the lack of the instruction was harmless as to Liu in light of his being found guilty on the possession charge, indicating that the jury would have unanimously agreed as to an overt act if it had been so instructed.

The case is United States v. Liu, 09-10136.


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