Counterfeit bills circulating in Sanpete probably grow out of drug deals
GUNNISON — The newly formed Gunnison Valley Police Department (GVPD) is making headway in their efforts to put a stop to counterfeit currency being circulated around the county.
The fake money, which has been discovered in denominations of $5, $10, $20 and $50, had so far been found as far north as Fairview, but the majority of it was surfacing in the Gunnison Valley.
“They are pretty good bills,” Interim Police Chief Brett McCall said. “The hue is a little off on these but if you have a few other bills in your wallet, you’re really not going to notice. It’s quite an operation.”
McCall said a customer tried to use a fake $50 bill at Miller’s gas station in Centerfield on Thursday, Dec. 8. The clerk, who had seen the counterfeit money come through the store before and was familiar with the problem, took the bill and called the GVPD.
Officer Tyler Donaldson, who is heading up the investigation in Gunnison Valley, was dispatched to the scene with other officers and, with the help of the Miller’s employees, was able to track down the suspect. When Donaldson found the suspect, he was with two other people.
“During the officer’s investigation, the officers identified several other suspects involved,” McCall said. “The officers served search warrants in Centerfield and Salina, which led to the arrest of three individuals.”
The suspects arrested were Shaylynn Roberts of Centerfield and Cody and Christine Howard of Salina.
“Salina PD helped us interrogate the suspects,” McCall said. “We got not just the bills, but a lot of good information and drug paraphernalia. We believe it is likely the fake bills are mainly being used to buy drugs, and from there find their way into circulation.”
He said the suspects were charged with multiple offenses, including possession of drugs, drug paraphernalia, counterfeit currency and other charges which will be screened by the Sanpete County Attorney, but he does not think they were the originators of the fake bills.
“During the warrant search, there was nothing to indicate that the bills were being printed by any of these individuals,” McCall said. “We have some leads on more suspects, but we have not been able to locate them yet.”
About two weeks before the funny money began surfacing in Gunnison Valley and other areas of Sanpete, a counterfeiter was arrested in Sevier County, but his bills were of a less convincing quality.
“We think someone might have come in to fill the vacuum he left and started printing better-looking bills,” McCall said. “We do not know exactly where they are being printed, but we do believe they are being produced somewhere in Central Utah. These new bills are a much more sophisticated and convincing bill.”
On Friday, McCall met in Ephraim with law enforcement from across the county to discuss their strategy to catch the culprit or culprits and minimize further circulation of the false bills.
Ephraim Police Chief Ron Rasmussen said he has had the fake bills pop up in his community; as did Fairview Police Chief Bob Bingham. Mt. Pleasant Police Department has also recently had fake bills surface in its community.
At the time of the meeting, Rasmussen said three fake bills had surfaced in Ephraim so far: two $10 bills and a $50 bill. The counterfeit bills came from people trying to spend them at the South Town Cinemas, Ephraim Market Fresh and Utah Heritage Credit Union.
While the police pursue a permanent end to the circulation of the fake money, McCall said there are some ways the public can protect themselves.
“There are some indicators on the bills that you can use to verify authenticity if you hold them up to the light,” McCall said, when asked how someone could tell if they have a fake bill.
He said when a bill worth $5 or more is held up to light, a security strip and a watermark will appear with the light shining from behind it.
The Secret Service maintains counterfeit money as its jurisdiction in cases involving very large dollar amounts. Recent data released by the Secret Service outlines several other ways to tell if a bill is fake.
Namely, color-shifting ink is another way to tell if a bill is real or fake. Take the $20 bill for example; the number 20 on the bottom right hand corner will have a copper color when you are looking straight at it. But if you rotate the top of the bill down so that the bill looks flatter to your eye, the “20” will turn more of a greenish color. All denominations of $5 or more have this security feature, going back to 1996.
McCall said perhaps the most commonly used money authentication method is the brown markers often used in retail locations, but this method will not likely help catch the batches of funny money in Sanpete County.
Although he said he doesn’t know precisely how the bills are being produced, he strongly suspects counterfeiters are bleaching $1 bills white and then somehow printing the image of a higher denomination bill onto the blank $1. Because of this method of counterfeiting, the brown markers, which are designed to react to non-standard paper, are rendered ineffective at catching fakes.
If you think you have a fake bill or if you have information about counterfeit currency, contact your local police department or the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office dispatch at (435) 835-2345. Those who live in Gunnison Valley should contact Officer Tyler Donaldson.
This is not the first time counterfeit bills have surfaced in Sanpete County.
Fairview City Police Chief Bob Bingham said two years ago two $20 bills were discovered in Fairview. “I think those came from a gal up north though,” Bingham said. McCall said it’s been years since he has seen a counterfeit operation like this one.