The ringleader of the largest counterfeiting operation ever uncovered in Baltimore was sentenced yesterday in U.S. District Court to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine.
Had Mustafa Mohamed Salama and his cohorts succeeded in their scheme, they would have printed as much as $50 million in fake $100s and $50s, said assistant U.S. attorney Maury Epner. When federal agents shut down the operation in July, they found enough high-grade paper on hand to print $4 million.
"This is not a guy who went in to rob a bank. This is a guy who worked night and day to try to defraud the country of millions of dollars," said Judge Marvin J. Garbis, who sentenced Salama. "This is a major crime. These are people who were trying to steal from this country."
Salama and his co-conspirators operated out of a warehouse in the 1100 block of East Lombard Street. Secret Service agents learned of the operation after a salesman of John H. Burke & Co., a Baltimore printing supply company told them a man had come into the store several times asking to purchase green ink. Federal agents installed hidden video cameras in the warehouse and monitored the group's activities for several weeks. The authorities shut down the operation before Salama and his partners could print or circulate any fake bills.
Salama, who does not have a criminal record, apologized for what he had done and said he was sorry. His attorney, David King, tried to shift responsibility for running the organization onto Richard M. Gore, 59, a co-conspirator who was convicted of counterfeiting in 1983.
"He [Gore] was the teacher," said Mr. King. "But for his role in this, Mr. Salama would not have been able to do anything."
But, Mr. Epner pointed out Salama's role in acquiring the paper and printing equipment and in securing the warehouse. Evidence at yesterday's sentencing indicated Salama was the only person with keys to the warehouse.
"He was the one calling the shots," said Mr. Epner. "It was Salama's show."
Salama is the first person involved in the operation to be sentenced. Charges against Estell W. Wienecke, 62, of the 200 block of South Highland Avenue were dropped after a mistrial; Gore is undergoing rehabilitation for alcoholism; Mohamed Sedky Mohamed, 30, has pleaded guilty and will be sentenced next month; and Mohamed Aly Mohamed has fled to Cairo, Egypt.