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Bravery under fire

Inspector receives congressional honor

Agents seized these fake $100 bills after the May 2018 shootout that ended in the death of counterfeiter Daniel Johnson. Image: U.S. Secret Service

Postal Inspector Brian Hess has been honored with the Federal Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery for his help in the 2018 capture of a cunning counterfeiter who had eluded authorities for months.

The ceremony, held April 7 in Oklahoma City, also awarded the badge to three deputy marshals from the U.S. Marshals Service Metro Fugitive Task Force involved in the capture.

“Postal Inspector Hess exemplifies the character of postal inspectors across our organization and their steadfast commitment to serving the public and ensuring their safety and well-being,” Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale said at the event.

“Law & Order” could not have produced a more dramatic scenario than the Secret Service sting in which Hess played a part, as chronicled in an investigative piece in the Los Angeles Times:

In search of counterfeiters, Secret Service agents surfed the dark web and purchased phony currency from “Billmaker,” a seller who was receiving rave reviews for the authenticity of his work. They paid in bitcoin.

As promised, Billmaker sent the agents fake $100s, his specialty, offering tracking through the U.S. Mail. This allowed authorities to trace the packages’ origin to the Oklahoma City area.

It was determined that ex-con Daniel Timothy Johnson, living under a stolen identity, was the mastermind.

Johnson was indicted by a federal grand jury in February 2017 but fled while out on bond. He resumed business in another corner of the dark web and agents once again became customers.

Again, Johnson sent his wares through the U.S. Mail. Postal inspectors pinpointed his precise dropping-off location: mailboxes across from the Norman, OK, police department.

Besides being a counterfeiting mastermind, Johnson was a doomsday prepper and had a small compound in the Oklahoma town of Noble, one of three addresses known to agents.

There, a fleet of officials — including Hess — lay in wait on the morning of May 17, 2018. As Johnson drove off from his doomsday lair, 10 vehicles followed in hot pursuit.

The fugitive fled from his pickup and fired an AR-15 rifle at his pursuers. A shootout ensued.

Johnson was struck and later died at a nearby hospital. One deputy marshal sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Afterward, agents found $300,000 in counterfeit bills drying at Johnson’s Yukon, OK, address, as well as several encrypted computers.

They have yet to be cracked.

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