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Four arrested in bogus-cash scam in Deptford

The Liberian con men had put word out that they had $17 million in smuggled money to sell.

The Liberian con men had put word out that they had $17 million in smuggled money to sell.

Holed up at a Deptford hotel, they assured potential marks that it was a sweet deal. The contraband cash had been dyed black to elude customs officials but could easily be washed clean, they claimed. They also were hawking a plastic bag of what they said were blood diamonds.

This quartet of international flimflammers smiled away Friday night, thinking the fix was in, when in reality they were subjects of a New Jersey State Police sting. The hustlers' party ended when a machine-gun-wielding SWAT team broke down their door, police said.

The four Liberian refugees now sit in the Gloucester County jail, charged with criminal conspiracy and theft by deception, awaiting a Thursday bail hearing in Superior Court.

The men were attempting an in-person version of the widely known "black money" or "Nigerian money" scam, said the lead agents in the case, State Police Detective Frederick Fife and Sgt. Francis McGovern. In the con, dupes are sold "dyed cash" - actually worthless construction paper - along with a chemical they think can clean the bills.

Usually, the scheme, which began popping up around the world 10 years ago, is carried out via e-mails telling people they have come into a large sum of money but must first pay large fees to claim it.

This is the first time arrests have been made in New Jersey involving the scams, Fife said.

In December, Philadelphia police arrested five Liberian men attempting to similarly scam local business owners. Authorities are investigating whether the New Jersey confidence men are linked to those in the city.

Fife said authorities did not believe those arrested Friday were tied to terrorist organizations. They were targeting immigrant business owners, he said - "people who are new to the U.S. and who might not turn to authorities if they are victimized."

Three of the suspects - Mohamed Kaba, 41; Mark Clark, 35; and James Swaray, 40 - gave police Philadelphia addresses. A fourth, Hunter Logan, 40, is listed as living in Staten Island, N.Y.

Police said paperwork found in the men's cars showed that they had been bouncing around the country, from Tampa, Fla., to Las Vegas and Minneapolis. Authorities are checking those states for similar scams.

After receiving intelligence about the New Jersey scam, police surveillance teams and agents from the FBI, the Secret Service, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security waited Friday morning at the Fairfield Inn on Hurffville Road.

Fife and McGovern gave the following account of the events leading to the arrests:

Two of the men arrived in a Porsche SUV. Police listened and watched from an adjoining hotel room as the suspects pitched their scheme.

They had $17 million in blackened $100 and $50 bills, they said. Kaba wove the tale for the potential dupes, whose identity the police did not release, saying he had inherited the money from his father, an influential figure in Sierra Leone who had been assassinated. The money had been dyed black so it could be smuggled out of his homeland, he said.

The suspects had brought with them what they said was $250,000 of the dyed cash wrapped and stacked in cellophane.

The men said they had a chemical solution to wash off the dye, police said. In reality, it was liquid vitamin C mixed with acetone, they said.

Suspects told their marks the bills had to be scrubbed while sandwiched between real U.S. currency in order to be cleaned. According to the con, $125,000 of real cash was needed to clean off the sham bills.

As proof, the scammers "randomly selected" a few real bills they had placed in the stack, put them between $100 and $50 bills they pulled from their pockets, and scrubbed, dried, and ironed them. When the dye vanished, the real bills emerged.

The suspects said they would throw in the diamonds - most likely cheap fakes, Fife said - for an extra $25,000.

Once the deal was made, the SWAT team charged down the hall, passing a cafe filled with puzzled customers, and made the arrests.