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Vegas Money Laundering Charges Stick on Appeal

(CN) - A man convicted for passing more than $1.9 million in counterfeit $100 bills at a Las Vegas casino while on pretrial release was brought to trial in a timely manner, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday.

Chen Chiang Liu had claimed that his convictions in Nevada district court for conspiracy to import, transfer and sell high-quality counterfeit $100 "supernotes" violated the Speedy Trial Act, but the federal appeals panel in San Francisco found that the approximately four years between Liu's first arrest in California in 2005 and his eventual conviction in Nevada in 2009 was proper "given the multijurisdictional nature, the continuation of new illegal acts ... and the difficulty of investigating this far-flung conspiracy."

Federal agents first arrested Liu in 2005 after he helped undercover agents obtain two shipments of the supernotes from contacts in "either Russia or North Korea," according to the ruling.

While on pretrial release in California, Liu continued to import and pass the counterfeit bills during several trips to Las Vegas, some of which were approved by the court.

"It is clear that Liu was also traveling to Las Vegas for the purpose of passing counterfeit currency because his net loss at a single casino was over $1.9 million for the period from February 2006 to July 2007, notwithstanding the fact that Liu submitted a financial affidavit upon arrest showing no appreciable wealth," according to the ruling.

In 2007, Liu was arrested again, this time in Las Vegas with his wife, Min Li Liu.

After dismissing the charges against his wife, a Nevada jury convicted Liu and sentenced him to 151 months in prison.

On appeal, among other issues, Liu claimed that his Nevada conviction violated the Speedy Trial Act (STA) because the conspiracy charge in Nevada was the same one leveled against him in a 2005 California indictment, and he was not brought to trial until 2008.

But the three-judge appeals panel disagreed, finding that Liu's "STA clock" had restarted in 2008 with the new charges in Nevada.

"There is no evidence in the record before us to suggest that the delay between the filing of the California indictment and the addition of Min Li through the filing of the [Nevada indictment] was unreasonable," Judge Richard Tallman wrote for the court. "It is evident from the numerous joint requests to continue trial filed with the district court in California that the investigation of this conspiracy, as well as the preparation for trial, was complex. This was a sophisticated worldwide conspiracy to import high quality counterfeit United States currency. Also, Liu continued to conduct the activities of the conspiracy while he was on pretrial release in California. The case kept evolving after the filing of the California indictment because the conspiracy continued its illegal operations. Consequently, any delay in the prosecution of Liu resulting from the ongoing nature of the conspiracy was reasonable."

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