- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

SEAL BEACH, Calif. (AP) - Eight people were arrested Thursday in California in a probe of gang members suspected of shopping with counterfeit money at big box retailers and returning the goods for cash refunds.

The investigation began in December after a store in the upscale city of Seal Beach, California, reported receiving fake $20 bills. Since then, local police and federal secret service agents said similar bills have been traced to members of two violent Los Angeles gangs and were used in more than 4,200 transactions totaling more than $100,000 nationwide.

“The money was used to fund their criminal organization and support their lifestyles,” Seal Beach police Chief Joe Stilinovich told reporters.

They were still investigating where the phony bills were manufactured, he said.

Authorities from a series of California law enforcement agencies and the Secret Service carried out 15 search warrants in Los Angeles County and retrieved computers, gift cards, receipts, weapons and counterfeit bills.

The suspects would spend between $500 and $1,000 at a big box retailer and return the goods to another of the store’s locations, Stilinovich said. In April, suspects shopped at toy store in Cypress, California, and returned the items for a refund in Seal Beach, police said.

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