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2 Men Charged in Travelers Checks Scheme : Crime: Authorities say a national counterfeit ring was run from a print shop. More arrests are expected.

February 09, 1992|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA MONICA — Authorities have broken up what they say was a counterfeit travelers checks ring that emanated from a Santa Monica print shop and spread around the nation.

After a six-month investigation, two men have been arrested and charged with running the counterfeiting scheme out of the Printgraph print shop, a tiny storefront located at 2504 Santa Monica Blvd.

The U.S. Secret Service considers the case significant, and agents say at least $1 million in bogus travelers checks have been circulated or confiscated.

Clint L. Howard, special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Secret Service office, said more arrests are expected in other regions of the country. The investigation is continuing, he said, and many of the bogus checks could still be outstanding.

A preliminary hearing was held in federal court last week for John Phillip Kennedy of Hollywood and Behrooz Naderi of Santa Monica, alleged masterminds of the ring. They were arrested Jan. 31.

Kennedy, 30, a Boston native, was ordered held without bail. Naderi, 45, an Iranian native, was released on $25,000 bail. On Thursday, a sign outside the shop said it would be closed temporarily. Naderi, who was inside, declined to comment on the case.

"I can't talk," a visibly agitated Naderi said. "We had some mistakes with one of our customers, but I can't talk."

The brightly lit store looks like the many other small storefront print shops along Santa Monica Boulevard. But authorities said that was just a cover.

"I'm sure that was exactly the way they wanted it to look," said Howard. "That (shop) was the point of origin, it looks like, for the whole operation. They had all the capabilities there--it doesn't take a big, elaborate print shop to do this kind of thing anymore."

Employees at a furniture store and a bookshop next to Printgraph said Naderi was always friendly and that he worked hard to build up his printing business.

"We are all a little bit shocked," said Laurie Sale, owner of the Children's Book and Music Center next door. "He has always been a very pleasant neighbor and tried to do business with all of us in the area."

Naderi had been at the location for about a year, Sale said, adding: "It was always very quiet. It didn't seemed like a very busy business."

The investigation began when fake checks appeared in Los Angeles in August. Since then, Howard and other authorities said, 150 suspects have been identified as check-passers in at least 11 states around the country. Another 25 people have been arrested for trying to pass the checks in Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and elsewhere, authorities said.

Secret Service agents said they had been watching the Santa Monica store for some time before raiding it at about 8 p.m on Jan. 31.

Howard said agents found Kennedy and Naderi in the process of making $200,000 worth of counterfeit travelers checks. Naderi and Kennedy are suspected of making fake Visa, MasterCard and Thomas Cook travelers checks and selling them, authorities said.

Authorities said that during the raid, they also found bogus cashiers checks, a small amount of counterfeit U.S. currency and all the tools needed for counterfeiting more.

"They were getting ready to branch into another line of business, it seems," Howard said.

A preliminary court hearing has been set for Feb. 18, and Kennedy and Naderi are set to be arraigned Feb. 24.

Howard speculated that recent steps taken to make it easier to detect counterfeit U.S. currency may have prompted some counterfeiters to switch to travelers checks and cashiers checks, which are almost interchangeable with cash.

"This case has raised our awareness of what some people are doing," he said. "It potentially could be a real problem out there."

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