Former bank official arrested in Arizona on counterfeit charge

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Accused in federal court of living high on the hog by defrauding banks and computer buyers, Joseph Graziano Jr. was released months ago pending trial on condition that he stay in Western Pennsylvania and, of course, commit no crimes.

But Friday Mr. Graziano, 28, of Downtown, was ordered detained by U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry following an arrest in Arizona and accusations that he traveled the country — including an apparent trip to the Super Bowl — shortly after obtaining shipments of counterfeit money from Uganda.

Getting charged again while awaiting federal trial “generally is a pretty bad idea,” said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and now a law professor at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. That’s doubly true when the accusation involves funny money.

“Counterfeiting is just one of those offenses that the federal government always takes very seriously, even more so now,” he added. “There’s also an increased national security concern about counterfeit money” because it can undermine the economy and finance other crimes.

According to an affidavit filed by a Pittsburgh-based FBI agent in federal court in Arizona, the U.S. Secret Service has been investigating shipments of counterfeit currency from Uganda.

A law enforcement database showed that a package from Uganda arrived at Mr. Graziano’s Downtown address, according to the affidavit. Another arrived at a South Side post box believed to be controlled by Mr. Graziano and listed under the name of someone whose identity he has used, the agent wrote.

Video surveillance from Peet’s Coffee, in Oakland, revealed that an individual identified as Mr. Graziano paid with a $100 bill for a latte there in December. Footage from an Oakland Rite-Aid showed that on the same day, a person identified as Mr. Graziano sent $1,593 via Western Union to Uganda.

In late January, the person appearing to be Mr. Graziano struck again, the agent wrote, spending money at a CVS store in Carnegie and a Walgreens in McCandless.

Banks later discovered counterfeit currency, consistent with that coming from Uganda, in the deposits from those businesses, according to the affidavit.

A search of a package addressed to a location associated with Mr. Graziano revealed 101 counterfeit $20 bills, according to the affidavit.

A federal probation officer asked Tuesday that Mr. Graziano be detained in Arizona, where he was arrested, because of the accusations related to counterfeiting and due to unauthorized trips this month.

Mr. Graziano, according to the probation officer, traveled in February to Paradise, Nev., Telluride, Colo., and East Rutherford, N.J., — the last on the date on which the Super Bowl was played there.

Judge McVerry signed the detention order Friday.

Mr. Graziano awaits trial on charges filed last year of bank fraud, bank embezzlement and mail fraud.

The former Bank of New York Mellon corporate trust administrator is accused of shifting $2,441,294 from that bank’s customers to accounts he controlled.

He is also accused of persuading other banks to lend him money against a 2010 Lamborghini Murcielago which he already had sold, taking out overlapping loans against a 2006 Bentley Continental and a 2010 BMW X6, and selling Apple iPads and MacBooks through eBay, but sending buyers only empty boxes.

Mr. Graziano’s attorney, Martin Dietz, declined comment. His last court filing, on Feb. 7, sought a two-month extension of time to file pretrial motions, which are now due April 10.

An 85-year-old man facing a multi-decade sentence might flaunt the law while on pretrial release with relative indifference, Mr. Antkowiak said. A young person, though, is risking the addition of years of incarceration.

Piling more crimes onto a federal case results in a higher sentencing guideline — a range that judges consider carefully following a conviction.

“You’re playing with a system in the federal courts that account for everything like that,” said Mr. Antkowiak.

“Generally speaking, you’re watching a guideline increase happening before your eyes when you do that.”

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. First Published February 28, 2014 11:01 AM


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