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TRANSIT POLICE BREAK UP MAJOR PASS COUNTERFEIT RING; FRAUD MAY HAVE COST MTA $4.6 MILLION

 LOS ANGELES, Aug. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- MTA Transit Police have broken up what is believed to be one of the largest bus pass counterfeit rings in Southern California, an operation that may have cost the MTA as much as $4.6 million in lost revenue since October 1991.
 Three men were arrested Thursday, Aug. 26, and materials seized including 2,400 bogus bus passes following a two-month investigation. The investigation was launched as a result of a tip to police stemming from news coverage of the break up of another counterfeit ring in June.
 MTA Transit Police Chief Sharon Papa said that two suspects were arrested in the Westlake district. A third was arrested at a printing business at 7th and Westmoreland. Charged with forgery are: Mario Unmanzor Hernandez, 39; Francisco Rodriguez, 49; and Fernando Rodriguez, 44, all of El Salvador.
 MTA Transit Police Sgt. Mark Weissmann, who led the investigation, said counterfeit passes valued at $42 each, printing plates and logo dies dating to 1991 were confiscated. Police said the trio could have produced as many 5,000 bogus passes each month, and then sold them through a network of vendors at bus stops in the Central Los Angeles area.
 "We believe we have broken up one of the largest of the bus pass counterfeit rings ever in operation in Southern California," said Chief Papa. "News coverage of the arrest and break up of another ring June 28 was key in helping us identify the suspects in this case."
 In June, three men were arrested when MTA police broke up another ring producing and distributing counterfeit passes. Those men were believed responsible for distribution of bogus passes that could have cost the MTA $250,000.
 To help combat counterfeiting, the MTA has introduced metal tokens earlier this year and switched to high-tech printing processes known as hologram images which incorporate multi-color designs and metallic embossing. Designs are changed monthly.
 Chief Papa reminded MTA bus and rail customers to purchase their monthly passes at MTA Customer Centers or by merchants authorized as pass sellers by the MTA.
 "Using a fake or stolen pass or transfer is a crime punishable by a $250 fine," she said.
 "To some, the use of a counterfeit bus pass may seem like a small thing -- but look at the size of this operation," said MTA Board Chairman and Los Angeles City Councilman, Richard Alatorre. "This is money right out of the pockets of the taxpayer, money that could be used to improve bus service.
 "Our Transit Police are working diligently to uncover and put a stop to this type of activity," Alatorre continued. "Their success today is one of the reasons I have insisted on maintaining a good, strong MTA Transit Police force."
 -0- 8/27/93
 /CONTACT: Bill Heard or Jim Smart of MTA News Bureau, 213-972-4400, or 213-244-7443/


CO: Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority ST: California IN: SU:

MF-JB -- LA023 -- 6761 08/27/93 16:46 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Aug 27, 1993
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