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Counterfeit bills used in four Armstrong communities

| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Brock Davis, manager of the Fine Wine and Good Spirits store in Franklin Village Mall in East Franklin, checks a $20 bill a counterfeit detection pen on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Police are building a case against three unnamed suspects believed to have passed counterfeit $20 bills at businesses in Elderton, Manor, East Franklin and the borough of Kittanning during the last week.

The suspects were identified by state police through surveillance videos in stores where the bills were used, and arrests are expected within a week, said Trooper Timothy Amy of the Kittanning barracks.

In addition to federal counterfeiting charges, the suspects could be charged with theft by deception, criminal conspiracy, fraud and forgery.

A half-dozen counterfeit bills were used Saturday in Wal-Mart and KFC-Taco Bell in the Hilltop Plaza in East Franklin, Amy said. Two bills were used Sunday in the Elderton Country Market on Route 85. Another case was reported in the Dollar General in Manor on Tuesday.

“One person buys something, while the other person creates some sort of distraction so the cashiers aren't paying as much attention to the bills,” Amy said. “Managers call us at the end of their shifts when they're counting down their drawers.”

The fake currency is printed on paper thicker than the linen used for real $20 bills and has uneven cutting along the edges, Amy said. All of the bills — which have been sent to a forensics lab to determine how they were made — have the same serial number: JL45648992F.

“They're a good-looking bill, but you can feel the edges are different on them,” Amy said. “We don't know if any more of them are in circulation, so anybody who receives a $20 bill should make sure to check it thoroughly, and if there is something unusual, call the police right away.”

Police urge retailers to carefully check each bill they receive with counterfeit-detecting markers.

According to Counterfeit Forensics, a website dedicated to helping people spot fake bills, the detection pens are iodine-based markers which react to starch that is found in most paper, but not currency. They leave a light amber mark on genuine money, but the ink turns dark brown on fake cash.

“These markers are their first line of defense against taking in fake bills,” said Kittanning police Chief Bruce Mathews.

Mathews said his department is working with state police on two investigations of counterfeit bills that were used in businesses in the borough. Mathews declined to discuss specifics of the cases but said it's believed the same suspects are involved in the borough crimes.

Despite the recent spree, Amy said counterfeiting cases are uncommon in Armstrong County.

“I've been with the state police for the last 10 years, and this is the only the second time we've dealt with any counterfeiting,” Amy said.

Police plan to meet with District Attorney Scott Andreassi by Friday to determine if they will file charges against the three suspects or turn the investigation over to the Secret Service's field office in Pittsburgh for federal prosecution.

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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