monopoly_money.jpgAn elderly merchant from San Francisco’s Chinatown was found guilty today of passing thousands of dollars in counterfeit bills to customers who were trading him gold coins in 2007.

After a three-week trial, a San Francisco Superior Court jury this afternoon convicted 81-year-old Peter Cheng of four counts of passing fictitious bills or notes, four counts of grand theft via false pretenses and two counts of second-degree burglary.

He was also found not guilty of one count of attempting to pass the fictitious bills.

Prosecutors said during the last two weeks of May 2007, Cheng passed out about $36,000 in fake U.S. currency in four transactions to two victims from the jewelry store he ran at 1010 Stockton St. in Chinatown.

In exchange, the victims gave him valuable gold coins, according to prosecutors.

Robert Amparan, Cheng’s defense attorney, said outside of court that he believes the jury wrongfully convicted his client, who he said was unaware of the fake cash.

Amparan said the bills passed through various bank security measures before being discovered.

“I believe my client was unaware, and just as much a victim of the counterfeit currency,” he said. “If bank tellers couldn’t tell these were fake bills, if bank detection machines and long-time Chinatown merchants couldn’t tell, how do you expect (him) to tell?”

The U.S. Secret Service was the investigating agency in the case, district attorney’s office spokesman Seth Steward said.

Cheng, who was out of custody during the trial, remains free on $300,000 bail pending the sentencing, which is scheduled for Oct. 6, Steward said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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