A decorated Gulf War veteran who later developed a drug addiction, lost his job and became homeless was sentenced Thursday in federal court in San Francisco to 30 months in prison for running a counterfeiting operation out of the van he lived in.

Paul Rickett, 37, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in July to producing and attempting to pass off as genuine more than $31,000 in counterfeit money in Santa Clara County between November and May.

According to prosecutors, Rickett targeted retail stores, “trolling from store to store” buying items and later returning them for genuine currency.

He was arrested after authorities began investigating two of his associates in the scheme, and they identified him as the source of the counterfeit money.

In April, Rickett manufactured and sold $3,940 in counterfeit money to an undercover U.S. Secret Service agent. He was arrested on May 8 with nearly $26,000 in counterfeit bills, after telling the agent he could secure $100,000 in fake money, and also that he knew others who could make fake passports and other identification.

Federal prosecutors said in their sentencing memorandum that Rickett was “a sophisticated counterfeiter” who admitted experimenting with several different colored inks to try to replicate newer U.S. currency, and a method for simulating the watermark on the bills.

“The defendant chose to engage in this criminal behavior, not because he lacked skills or education or opportunity, but rather simply because it was easier than earning money honestly,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Lewis wrote.

According to Rickett’s attorney Barry Portman, Rickett, who grew up in Modesto, joined the U.S. Army in 1989, fighting in the first Gulf War as a tank driver, and was decorated eight times, including three Bronze Stars.

After returning from the war, Rickett worked as a tank instructor at Fort Knox in Kentucky.
Having only used marijuana before, Rickett “began to get more heavily involved with drugs,” Portman wrote in his sentencing memorandum.

Rickett was sentenced in 1993 to 48 months in prison after being convicted in a Kentucky federal court of possession of LSD with intent to distribute.

After his release, Rickett developed a methamphetamine habit but was able to maintain employment until 2007, having trained as a computer engineer and working for Stanford Hospital, XO Communications, Cisco Systems, Erikson and Cingular-AT&T, according to Portman.

“By 2007, Paul’s addiction to methamphetamine had grown so potent that he lost his job and became homeless, ultimately living in his van,” Portman wrote.

Rickett “eventually lost everything to his addiction,” he said.

Lewis noted that Rickett admitted when he took the plea that counterfeiting “was really too easy and too tempting at that point in my life.”

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