tampabay.com

$100 bills are fake; 2 arrests are real

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published February 1, 2007


WESLEY CHAPEL - The phoney money didn't fool anyone for long.

Authorities say two cousins hit a string of businesses Tuesday afternoon on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, attempting to make small purchases with counterfeit $100 bills and receive real money as change. But before Johnson and Jean Atis could make their getaway up Interstate 75, a merchant and the Florida Highway Patrol were on their trail.

According to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, here's what happened:

Johnson Atis, 23 of Tampa made a $27.50 purchase at Flowers and More with a fake bill and walked out with $71.50 in change. But shop owner Valine Smith and her mother had doubts about the money. They noted how Atis carefully handled it, touching it as little as possible.

Atis also tried to buy something at a nearby Papa John's pizza place. He left when the employee there summoned a manager.

In the meantime, Jean Atis, 38, of Miami tried to pass one of the bills at a Blockbuster video store. But the cashier spotted the fake almost immediately and demanded Jean Atis return the just-sold DVD and the change.

The cousins met in the parking lot and left in a Toyota van. Smith acted fast, getting her husband to trail the pair. Billy Smith followed the van toward I-75 and State Road 54. He alerted a trooper, who pulled them over.

In interviews with detectives, Jean Atis said he received the money after cashing his income tax refund at a Miami liquor store.

He and Johnson said they didn't know the bills were fake.

Jean Atis was charged with one count of uttering a forged instrument. He remained at the Land O'Lakes jail Wednesday on $4,000 bail. Johnson Atis, who faces two counts of the same charge, was released on his own recognizance.