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20-Year-Old Sentenced for Key Role in Darknet Counterfeiting Ring from Uganda

Zachary L. Ruiz aka “Mr. Mouse” was sentenced to four years in prison and three years of probation on November 2, 2016. The Las Vegas counterfeiter hoped his mental health problems would let him avoid a strict punishment.

The judge recognized the young man’s behavioral and developmental issues but noted “[Ruiz] also demonstrated what appears to be an easy ability to engage in sophisticated criminal activity.”

In 2014, the United States indicted Ryan Andrew Gustafson aka Willy Clock on charges of conspiracy, conspiracy to launder money, and the passing and receiving of counterfeit money. Several other darknet-linked counterfeiters were on that indictment, and one was Ruiz. At the time of the indictment, Ruiz was 19-years-old.

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He admitted, in December 2015, to being a key U.S. contact for a Uganda-based counterfeiting ring. He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and two counts of transferring counterfeit currency. The indictment accused Ruiz, Gustafson, and several others of producing and using more than $1.4 million in counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes.

Ruiz asked U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak for a sentencing of home confinement with community service or a halfway house. Assistant U.S. Attorney Shardul Desai pushed for a five year prison term. Judge Hornak, in addition to the aforementioned four years in prison and three years of probation, ordered Ruiz to pay $230,980 in restitution to the retailers around the US who were affected by receiving counterfeit currency.

Hornak revoked Ruiz’s bond so federal marshals would take him into custody and begin serving time.

Stanley Greenfield, Ruiz’s attorney, said “[Ruiz] is a kid with the maturity of an 11-year-old when he started. He was an outsider with very few friends — or none.” Greenfield argued that as such a young child, the darknet gave Ruiz “some standing” as he had gone through seven schools without graduating.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Shardul Desai provided evidence that Ruiz was active on the DNMs and other criminal sectors prior to the counterfeiting ring. One of the reasons Ruiz was a key U.S. contact for the counterfeiting ring was the massive network of people he had connected with over time.

“The defendant is not someone who just stumbled into counterfeiting,” he said.

Ruiz’s network of people were essential to the fluidity of the operation; a massive number of people were needed to fence the stolen goods. “Within six months of joining the ring, Ruiz had become the No. 2 person in the conspiracy and its ‘main supplier of counterfeit money in the United States,’” the prosecutor said.

Desai said that when Ryan Andrew Gustafson of Uganda was arrested, Ruiz “assumed command and tried to keep the operation going.”

Gustafson aka Willy.Clock is currently incarcerated in Pittsburgh without bail. He awaits trial on seven counts including counterfeiting conspiracy, a related money-laundering conspiracy and five counts of passing or receiving counterfeit currency.

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