WEST CHESTER — As a refugee from the war-torn West African nation of Liberia, Ali Konneh came to America seeking a better life. Unfortunately for Konneh, the opportunity he appears to have taken may put him in jeopardy of returning home.
On Friday, Konneh pleaded guilty to forgery charges for passing counterfeit $50 bills at four businesses in Phoenixville. He was sentenced to eight to 23 months in Chester County Prison, with an additional one year of subsequent probation.
Chester County Court President Judge James P. MacElree II, who approved the plea agreement Konneh had entered and handed down the jail sentence, warned Konneh that his conviction on the charges might mean that he would be detained by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities and be subjected to deportation proceedings.
Konneh said he understood.
His attorney, Scott L. Kramer of Media, told MacElree that his client had been granted permanent residency status and had a Green Card allowing him to live and work in the United States, after coming here as a refugee from Liberia. But he also noted that Konneh has some open criminal cases in Philadelphia.
According to Deputy District Attorney Mark Conte, who prosecuted the case, Konneh was identified as having passed four counterfeit $50 bills at stores in the area of the Phoenixville Plaza Shopping Center on Nutt Road around 7 p.m. on Oct. 15, 2013. The items he paid for were less than the face value of the fake bill, and he received change in the transaction that he did not deserve, Conte said.
The owner of the Primo Hoagies restaurant at the shopping center, Wayne Kain, told police officer Sean Knapp that he had recognized Konneh as one of four men who came into his store together and began looking around. Eventually, they bought sandwiches and paid for them with two $50 bills. After they left, Kain said he could see the bills were forgeries because the security strip identified them as $5 bills and not $50 bills.
Conte said that the bills had apparently been “bleached” so that an extra zero could be added to the face of a normal $5 bill.
Police searched the area after Kain told them he saw the four men enter other stores in the center. Eventually, officer Kyle Place stopped one of the men matching the description given by Kain, and was later able to identify him as Konneh, even after the suspect gave him a fake name and date of birth.
Konneh, 22, of Chester Avenue in Philadelphia, told MacElree that he had been approached by several men in Philadelphia and asked if he wanted to make some “quick money,” which is how he came into possession of the counterfeit bills.
“I know I did wrong,” he told the judge. “I made a bad decision in coming to Phoenixville. Now, I don’t know how it is going to affect my life.”
He did not identify the other men allegedly involved and they were not arrested. Kramer said his client had been left behind by the others.
As part of the plea, Konneh will be responsible for paying $200 in restitution to Primo Hoagies, Pet Supplies Plus, Dollar Tree Stores, and GNC Nutrition.
“If I get home, this is going to be my last time making a bad decision,” Konneh vowed.
“A lot of people who come (into court) say that, but it doesn’t always hold up,” MacElree told him.