A courier for a notorious Bulgarian counterfeiting ring was sentenced yesterday to eight months in federal prison for bringing nearly $63,000 in phony $100 bills to Maryland.
The bills are believed to have been printed on a secret offset press somewhere in Bulgaria, home to one of the world's largest counterfeiting operations, U.S. Secret Service agents said. More than $3.5 million of the counterfeit U.S. bills suspected to have been made there have surfaced around the world.
Valeri Gueorguiev, 37, who carried counterfeit money in Maryland and elsewhere for the ring, apologized for what he had done at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. He was arrested in June after some of the bills surfaced at a 7-Eleven store in Bel Air.
"I am sorry for everything," said the native Bulgarian, who now lives in North York, Ontario, in Canada. "I'm sorry for all the inconvenience and the trouble I caused."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew C. White said yesterday that investigators are continuing their search for the printing press in Bulgaria. He said Gueorguiev didn't cooperate in helping authorities find its location.
Gueorguiev had stashed about $20,000 in counterfeit money earlier this year at the home of a Harford County woman, Silvia Stoimenova, according to a federal affidavit. He told Stoimenova that he would be returning to Maryland "to pick it up in a few days," the affidavit said.
But Stoimenova was charged June 18 with passing about $11,000 in fake $100 bills. The Secret Service later taped her phone conversations and heard about Gueorguiev and his plans to come to Maryland to pick up the counterfeit money, prosecutors said.
A week later, agents arrested Gueorguiev in Bel Air as he met with Stoimenova. They found $62,700 in counterfeit money -- described as being of exceptionally high quality -- in a duffel bag inside Gueorguiev's car.
Stoimenova was charged with passing counterfeit money, according to a federal affidavit. The status of her case was unclear yesterday.
One of Gueorguiev's lawyers, Dennis Charles Worth, said Gueorguiev was "a courier or a mule" who didn't know the money he was transporting was counterfeit. Worth asked U.S. District Court Judge William M. Nickerson to show leniency, saying there had been an illness in Gueorguiev's family and that he would face difficulties as a foreigner in a U.S. prison.
Gueorguiev has lived in Canada for the past six years and has worked as a street vendor selling items from the back of his car. After serving his prison term, he will face deportation proceedings.
He told the arresting agents that he obtained the counterfeit currency from an individual in New York City named "Stefan" and that he was supposed to deliver it to an individual named "Ivan" in Toronto, according to a federal affidavit.
Authorities credited an alert Brinks security employee with discovering the phony bills that led to exposing Gueorguiev. The employee was making a pick-up at a 7-Eleven store where Stoimenova had passed the counterfeit money and noticed something amiss with the bills, prosecutors said.