A 28-year-old man from Waite Park, Minn., on Sept. 25 is expected to respond to a felony charge for theft-by-swindle stemming from selling counterfeit coins to three pawn shops in the greater Minneapolis area.
Eric Michael Johnson, identified in a complaint filed July 31 in Minnesota’s 7th Judicial District Court located in Stearns County, could face a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and/or a fine of $10,000.
Johnson was arrested Feb. 27, 2017, by Minnesota Department of Commerce Special Agent Joseph K. Boche in the Pawn America shop located in Anoka, Minn.
Special Agent Boche had stopped by the Anoka Pawn America shop to pick up video surveillance and to verify that coins Johnson sold to the shop on Jan. 2 were fake when an employee told him that Johnson was there attempting to sell a 2009-P Australian gold $100 Kangaroo graded Mint State 69 encapsulated in a Numismatic Guaranty Corp. holder. Both the coin and the holder were determined to be counterfeit.
According to the complaint, Johnson in a Mirandized statement admitted to purchasing coins on the Chinese web site Aliexpress.com. He further admitted that he had purchased the fake Australian gold coin for $115 and was attempting to sell it for $900 to make a profit.
Special Agent Boche had opened his investigation into counterfeit coins being sold in the area on Feb. 16 when a coin collector notified him that he had purchased a 1909-O $5 Indian Head half eagle in a Professional Coin Grading Service holder for $4,999 plus tax from Pawn America located in the city of St. Cloud. The collector fell on ice on his way home and the top corner of the PCGS holder broke off. He went to Central States Coins shop seeking to return the coin to the grading service so it could be re-encapsulated. A week later Central States Coins notified him that the coin could not be recertified because it was counterfeit. The PCGS holder was also determined to be fake.
Special Agent Boche checked the Automated Pawn System and learned that Eric Michael Johnson had sold the coin to Pawn America and that since June of 2016 he had sold six rare U.S. gold coins encapsulated in NGC and PCGS slabs and a Perth Mint gold bar to Pawn America stores in the cities of Anoka and St. Cloud as well as Max It Pawn, also located in St. Cloud. All of the coins as well as the bar and all of the holders were determined to be counterfeit. All of the counterfeits were seized by law enforcement.
The counterfeit gold U.S. coins in fake holders with stated grades included: 1929 $5 Indian Head half eagle, PCGS-MS-62;1902-S $10 Liberty Head eagle, NGC MS-63; 1909-O $5 Indian Head half eagle, PCGS-AU 58; 1902-S Liberty Head eagle, NGC MS-65, 2014 gold American Eagle in a genuine PCGS holder, its market value would have been $42,500.
“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 Industry Council for Tangible Assets. “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.”
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 that if you are offered coins at below market value, particularly from a Chinese seller online or from people you don’t know in the United States, 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,” Deisher said.