A gang of fraudsters used Monopoly money to pay for watches, jewelry, and diamonds in several scams worth over $9 million.
Sandwiched between real euro notes or disguised with paper bands, the toy cash looked almost exactly like authentic currency, except for its light color. When victims used pens or machines to count the notes, the Monopoly money went undiscovered.
A Bristol crown court jury found the fraudsters guilty in May and ordered them to jail. The judge, Julian Lambert, told the gang, “You operated as a crime group, using reconnaissance and meticulous planning. It required considerable ingenuity and effort to establish dishonest ends.”
In one of the biggest swindles, Australian jewelry dealer John Calleija, who owns shop on London’s Old Bond Street, was told that an investor had five million euros to buy his diamonds. Gang member Gianni Accamo, the “gem expert,” went to examine Mr. Calleija’s inventory of precious stones, and a deal was struck at a Covent Garden hotel in London.
Mr. Calleija, accompanied by his bodyguard, used his cash counting machine to count bundles of 500 euro notes, which totaled 7.7 million euros — the equivalent of 8.7 million US dollars.
Mr. Hughes, the prosecutor, told the court, “When Mr. Calleija finished counting the notes, the machine didn’t pick up a single problem.”
When the two briefly left the room to put the machine away, the fraudsters switched the real euros for bundles of fake cash. The swindlers successfully collected the diamonds from Mr. Calleija, who did not discover the scam until the criminals were long gone.
“At some point during the fatal turn around to put that cash-counting machine away, the real money has been switched, the fake money has been substituted, and the criminals had disappeared with the diamonds,” Mr. Hughes said.
When Mr. Calleija checked the cash later, he was shocked when he discovered the fake money.
Similar frauds were carried out in Bristol and Leeds. Whales-based jeweller Jack Cohen met the gang members at a Marriott Hotel in Bristol and received real euros for watches and a banker’s draft for diamonds. When Mr. Cohen discovered a problem with the draft, he was told he would be paid in euros.
The tricksters gave Mr. Cohen bundles of fake cash, which he didn’t discover until later. His loss totaled almost $600,000.
Some of the fraudsters were arrested in November 2014 after police found fake notes and stolen jewelry at an address in Nottingham. A jury convicted Mr. Accamo, 44, of theft and sentenced him to six years in prison, while fellow swindlers Dragoslav Djordjevic, Juliano Nikolic, and Dusico Nikolic faced similar sentences.
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