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Bogus bills spring up in North Tampa

A federal official says about $10,000 in counterfeit money is reported each week in Hillsborough County.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2000


CITRUS PARK -- A rash of counterfeit $100 and $20 bills has surfaced in the last several weeks at North Tampa businesses, including Citrus Park Town Center and University Mall, officials say.

Hillsborough Sheriff's Detective Skip Pask said detectives are investigating common elements of all of the cases, and so far have made a handful of arrests.

U.S. Secret Service officials say they have seen an increase in the past few years in counterfeit money due to advanced computer technology.

"With a $1,500 computer, you can counterfeit money at home," said spokesman Gregory Mertz.

Mertz said roughly 60 percent of the counterfeit bills reported in a seven county area around Tampa Bay come from Hillsborough County.

"That comes down to about $10,000 a week."

So far, investigators say, a few of the counterfeiters have been caught.

In the University of South Florida area on April 29, records show, deputies charged 19-year-old Wayne Thomas Shine of 3503 Breezewood Drive with one count of uttering a forged bill.

Shine, who is unemployed, was released from jail on $1,000 bail the next day. He could not be reached for this story.

On March 31, deputies charged 24-year-old Jonathan Ferster of 15501 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. with four counts of uttering a forged bill, and one count of possession of 10 or more counterfeit bills.

Ferster, a chef, told detectives he had sold a watch and been given the counterfeit money as payment, and was only trying to spend it in order to get rid of it.

He was released from jail on $14,250 bail. He could not be reached for this story.

Ferster was caught after a gas station clerk recognized a man who had used a counterfeit $20 bill there before, and called the sheriff's office.

Most clerks, Pask said, do not get involved, but simply will hand back the phony bill to its owner and not detain them.

"It's like passing back a bad check," he said.

While most counterfeiters have become skilled at their imitations, Pask said, a fake bill can be detected by its texture: it will be fuzzy, and probably tattered or worn.

The counterfeiter, Pask said, will have tried to crumple the bill up or tatter it. It will also probably look faded.

The fine print around the bill's picture will be fuzzy, and fake bills have the same serial number, instead of different bills being in a sequence, Pask said.

He hopes more clerks will try to detain the suspects who pass the counterfeit money, as well as hang on to the bills for evidence.

Ultimately, Pask said, the victim is not the store, but the value of U.S. currency.

"How valuable are our dollars going to be?"


-- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3474 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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