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 user 2005-09-01 at 11:17:00 am Views: 81
  • #12674

    Digital imaging changes face of counterfeit bills

    The owners of the Amen
    Gift Shop never planned on making a lot of money selling African
    artwork to help ministers in impoverished sub-Saharan villages.

    But nearly two years ago, a counterfeiter shattered their trust in the
    community and their confidence in running a business when he laundered
    $3,900 in fake money through the store’s Western Union terminal.
    Fearful of being victimized again, the owners closed the little shop.
    “When you got so much air taken out of the tire, you don’t roll forward
    - smoothly, at least,” says Nwaka Chris Egbulem, a longtime Catholic
    missionary and leader of the Amen Foundation, a non-profit group that
    ran the shop.

    Unfortunately, small mom-and-pop businesses such as the Amen Gift Shop
    are the most frequent targets of counterfeiters, says Dale Pupillo,
    deputy special agent in charge of the Secret Service’s criminal
    investigative division.

    Counterfeiters prey on inexperienced and busy workers, from high school
    students working at ice cream stores to bartenders in busy clubs, he
    says. (Related item: Computers help tech-savvy counterfeiters cash in)

    “They take advantage (of such workers),” Pupillo says. “For small
    businesses, even the smaller amounts of counterfeit money make a

    From the nation’s capital to Gaston County, N.C., to Levelland, Texas,
    local and federal law enforcement officials are bringing cases that
    illustrate how advances in digital-imaging technology have made
    counterfeiting easier.

    With inkjet printers or tabletop color copiers, anyone can make counterfeit cash quickly in his or her home, Pupillo says.

    High school students in North Carolina are making fake cash for their
    lunch money. Petty criminals in Lubbock, Texas, allegedly hope to
    exchange fake money quickly for real currency.

    Nathaniel Wills, 44, of Washington ruined the Amen Gift Shop in about
    four hours by using it to transform counterfeit money into real cash,
    according to papers filed by federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court

    On Nov. 5, 2003, Wills and two female accomplices passed $3,900 in
    counterfeit money via the shop’s Western Union terminal, according to
    the papers. The affidavit says the threesome “wired” the fake cash to
    other stores in the city, where they picked up legitimate money.

    Wills, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced in June to 18 months in prison.

    “It was devastating,” says Egbulem, who reimbursed Western Union out of his own pocket.

    Pupillo says today’s counterfeiters have the best equipment but pay
    little attention to detail, often producing poor-quality fake cash.

    “They’re not interested in color-shifting ink or watermarks or the red
    and blue fibers (in legitimate money),” he says, referring to concerns
    of counterfeiters of the past. “They just want something that looks
    like a $20 bill.” Most of the time, that’s enough to sneak the fake
    bills past unsuspecting clerks at small shops, convenience stores or
    fast-food restaurants.

    Despite the changes in counterfeiting, the amount of fake cash
    produced, seized and passed has remained stable in recent years.
    Counterfeit money continues to represent a small percentage of the $700
    billion in legitimate currency in circulation worldwide, the Secret
    Service says.

    Last year, the agency estimates, domestic counterfeiters produced $53.7
    million in fake cash. Of that, law enforcement officials seized about
    $10.3 million, which left $43.4 million in circulation.

    In Gaston County, N.C., prosecutor William Stevenson says he’s seen “a
    marked increase” in the past six years in cases such as the one against
    Casey Henson, 23, of Belmont, N.C., who allegedly used a counterfeit
    $20 bill to pay for delivery of a pepperoni pizza.

    On May 29, two days after he tried to dupe Pizza Hut, Henson paid a tab
    at a popular local bar with a counterfeit $20 bill, according to police

    Belmont police Officer Dawn Todd wrote in an arrest report that Henson
    had $252 in counterfeit cash in one side of his wallet and some real
    money in the other. According to the report, Henson admitted he had
    made the counterfeit money. Police confiscated a scanner from his home
    and seized more than $2,000 in fake money.

    Public defender Andrea Godwin, who represents Henson, wouldn’t
    elaborate on his case until the grand jury took action. But she says
    she has had several clients who were accused of making fake money on
    their home computers, including juveniles who made counterfeit $20
    bills and tried to spend them in school lunchrooms.

    Godwin says most of the defendants plead guilty to misdemeanors because of the small amounts of money involved.

    Some cases carry a much greater risk. Alleged counterfeiters Tasha
    Garcia and Herman Brooks “could have caused an explosion” when they
    took off at high speed from a Levelland, Texas, gas station on June 15,
    according to a Secret Service affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in

    An alert convenience-store clerk realized Garcia and Brooks were trying
    to pass a counterfeit $50 bill to pay for gas and told them she was
    calling police, the affidavit says.

    The court papers say the pair drove away at such a high speed that they
    ripped the nozzle from a gas pump. When police eventually stopped them,
    the nozzle was still in the car’s gas tank. The affidavit says a
    7-month-old baby also was in the car.