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Fake bills passed in Somerset County prompt close look

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Counterfeit $100 bills passed at a Wal-Mart in Somerset County have piqued the interest of the Secret Service.

"We're working with Pennsylvania State Police in Somerset on this case. What really has us interested in this case is the printing method," said Eric Zahren, special agent in charge of the Secret Service in Pittsburgh.

"We believe this (counterfeit bills) is tied to the passing of one particular family of notes that is not very common here. Typically, more than 50 percent of counterfeit bills are digitally produced, but these bills were produced on an offset printing press, which takes more time and more skill. ... It has grabbed our attention," Zahren said.

On March 31, clerks at the Wal-Mart on North Center Avenue in Somerset Township notified state police that two women attempted to pass $100 bills to purchase electronics.

Police arrested Kimberly Shanta Riddick, 27, and Tynita Lavelle Bailey, 29, both of Dover, Del., on charges of forgery and trademark counterfeiting charges.

Riddick was taken into custody as she tried to purchase an Apple iPad with alleged counterfeit money just after midnight. As Riddick was being arrested, Bailey tried to leave the checkout line where she was trying to purchase two digital cameras, police said.

Authorities confiscated $3,500 in counterfeit currency in the women's possession.

A third woman purchased a laptop computer using suspected counterfeit bills and left the store before she could be apprehended. The woman was seen driving a maroon Nissan sedan with Pennsylvania license plate number GKG-3667, headed toward Route 219, police said.

"The third suspect remains at large," state police Cpl. Edward Thomas said yesterday.

State police routinely contact the Secret Service in counterfeit cases, Thomas said.

"It's our understanding that this may be part of a much larger group passing these bills, not just here but throughout the (Eastern U.S.) region," Thomas said.

The Secret Service believes that the $100 fake bills "are originating and being passed by out-of-state groups," Zahren said.

"I'd say we've seen a 30 percent increase in (counterfeit cases) throughout the entire Western Pennsylvania region in January, February and March, but these particular spikes are normal. Usually, they come through, attempt to pass the notes and move on," Zahren said.

The number of counterfeit bills remains "very, very small ... less than 1 percent of currency," Zahren noted.

"It's really unlikely the majority of the general public or retailers will ever have to deal with it, but we do pursue it very aggressively," he said. "We are still pursuing a number of leads on these particular notes."

Both Thomas and Zahren credited quick action by Wal-Mart employees with the Somerset arrests.

"We work with employees at the Wal-Mart here and other merchants a lot on counterfeit detection," Thomas said.

Even the "offset notes" are easy to recognize as fakes because the numerous defects "are readily apparent," Zahren said.

"(Counterfeiters) are hoping to pass them, but to informed, conscientious employees, all it takes is a little time to take a suspected bill and compare its security features, including ink color, watermarks and security threads, with an actual bill of the same denomination," Zahren said.

Two days before the Wal-Mart incident, a clerk at the Kwik-Fill gas station on Plank Road was suspicious of a "filthy" copy of a $50 bill someone attempted to pass to pay for $20 worth of gasoline. The clerk called Somerset Borough police.

"Unlike the recent state police case, this one was really amateur," police Chief Randy Cox said.

Someone had altered a $1 bill, police said. President George Washington was pictured on the bill, which denotes a $1 denomination, and the security threads were missing.

Brandon D. Shaulis, 29, of Somerset is charged with forgery, theft by deception and theft of services in that case.

Riddick and Bailey failed to post $50,000 bond and remain in the Somerset County Jail pending preliminary hearings today before District Judge Kenneth W. Johnson.

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