Gamble pays off in dismissal of wife’s charges in counterfeiting case

Maybe avid Las Vegas gambler Wilson Liu is on a roll.

He risked his wife’s freedom, and on Monday he came out a winner in U.S. District Court in the “Supernotes” counterfeiting trial when charges against her were dismissed.

It was hardly a secret in recent weeks around the courthouse that Min Li Liu, also known as Teresa Liu, was offered a pass in the far-reaching international counterfeiting case if her husband agreed to cooperate with the FBI and Secret Service in their investigation. Wilson Liu flatly refused to comply, and Teresa Liu remained silent.

Her poker face paid off. She won an acquittal because of a lack of evidence after defense attorney Carl Osborne’s motion was granted by U.S. District Judge James Mahan. Although it’s possible Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Vasquez is disappointed, it’s hard to imagine him or anyone who has watched the trial being surprised by the judge’s decision. Teresa Liu was a throw-in player from the start in the investigation, which focused on the alleged criminal activities of her husband and a shady international businessman named John Wu.

Supernotes, as they are called, are counterfeit $100 bills of exceedingly high quality. Believed by the government to come from a printing plant in North Korea, the notes are of such superb quality that even currency experts have been fooled by them.

We have learned from the investigation that the bogus bucks are capable of fooling the latest casino bill acceptors in Las Vegas. According to the indictment, Wilson Liu tested the bills’ quality during gambling forays to Caesars Palace and other casinos even after he was arrested on related counterfeiting charges in Los Angeles. (He managed to persuade authorities to allow him to travel from Southern California to Las Vegas on “business.”)

Although the FBI and Secret Service have tracked the Supernotes from North Korea, through China and into the United States, it was in Las Vegas that Teresa Liu enters the picture. Wilson brought her along on his trips. Casino surveillance captured the couple gambling with hundreds of thousands of dollars in suspect currency.

As late as July 30, 2007, the Lius were at Caesars Palace, where she gambled and, according to the indictment, he “passed scores of Supernotes into slot machines and, after relatively nominal play, cashed out the balances that he had accrued through this repetitive pattern and obtained genuine United States currency.”

When law enforcement converged on the couple in July, a search of their Cadillac Escalade turned up 301 Supernotes. Teresa Liu was driving at the time, the indictment states. Authorities also found counterfeit cash in her makeup bag and in red envelopes that were described as gifts from family members.

But just how much did she know about her husband’s apparent counterfeiting and money laundering program?

During opening statements in the trial, Osborne astutely portrayed Teresa Liu as a devoted mother of two and a very traditional Asian wife who brought her own money to the casino.

“She enjoys these outings and liked to play the slot machines,” Osborne said. “Her husband does not give her money for gambling.”

The defense attorney detailed a relationship in which she was “subservient to her husband” and, “He is the master of the home.”

That might sound backward to most readers, but it sure helped with Teresa Liu’s defense.

The government, meanwhile, described her as a willing participant whose close proximity to the tainted cash made it unreasonable to believe she was ignorant of its origins. She had “intent and knowledge,” Vasquez told the jury during his opening statement.

Problem is, neither case agents nor prosecutors had much to connect Teresa Liu to the operation.

Such is not the case with her husband. He was wired six ways from Sunday, worked by FBI undercover agent Robert Hamer and listened to by a jailhouse informant. His admissions on videotape, though at times difficult to understand because of his Asian accent, could prove devastating to any defense he’s trying to develop through attorney Theodore Cohen.

After all that, I am left with questions.

Why risk seeing your wife and the mother of your children be carted off to prison?

Why not take a deal?

Wilson Liu must be one gutsy gambler, but he’s down to his last roll of the dice.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.

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