Do not pass go: Counterfeit cash lands SF man in real-life jail 

click to enlarge An Chinatown businessman was convicted of passing more than $36,000 in fake $100 bills. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • An Chinatown businessman was convicted of passing more than $36,000 in fake $100 bills.

An elderly Chinatown businessman got a lengthy jail sentence Tuesday after being convicted of passing more than $36,000 in high-quality fake money.

Peter Cheng — a jeweler convicted in August of 10 felony counts, including burglary, grand theft and passing counterfeit currency — listened through a Cantonese translator as Judge John Schwartz sentenced him to three years and four months in County Jail. The judge said the crimes were carried out in a manner indicating “planning and sophistication.”

Cheng was found guilty of passing 361 fake $100 bills to two other merchants as part of a series of gold coin purchases in May 2007.

Prosecutor Michael Sullivan said the fake money, which Cheng interspersed with real bills, was “some of the highest-quality counterfeit currency found anywhere in the world.”

U.S. officials have accused North Korea of being behind such high-grade “supernotes.” A 2009 Congressional Research Service report noted that despite government denials, at least $45 million in suspected North Korean supernotes had been found in circulation in various countries.

Evidence showed that Cheng knew the money he was using, which all began with the same serial numbers, was counterfeit, although it was unclear where the money came from, Sullivan said.

Cheng’s attorney, Robert Amparán, said his client, known for his work assisting Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants, had no idea the money was fake.

Schwartz declined Ampa­rán’s request to sentence his client, as probation department officials had recommended, to probation. Cheng, 82, is suffering from advanced lung cancer.

Cheng refused pre- and post-trial offers for less jail time, Schwartz noted.

“Now he’s got himself convicted of 10 felonies,” he said.

Amparán is appealing both the verdict and the sentence.

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