A counterfeiting ring specializing in $100 bills has hit three businesses in Mount Airy, and while one of its members has been apprehended others are being sought.
So far, local authorities have identified four to six possible suspects involved in the scheme, “that we know of,” Lt. Paul Barker of the Mount Airy Police Department said Thursday.
One of the ring’s members, a woman from South Carolina, was taken into custody earlier week and jailed under a $50,000 secured bond. City police also have confiscated phony $100 notes circulated here.
“I think it’s 25 bills,” said Barker, who heads the detective unit of the police department, where Sgt. Brad Quesinberry has been working the case.
The counterfeiters also have been operating in Winston-Salem and Pilot Mountain, with the police department in the neighboring Surry town first alerting Mount Airy police on Sunday that they might be active here, too.
That day, four $100 bills were found to have been passed to buy merchandise at Food Lion on South Andy Griffith Parkway.
Also Sunday, nine more of the counterfeit bills were presented at Dollar General on Rockford Street and another dozen surfaced from an incident at Kentucky Fried Chicken, also on Rockford Street.
Police say an “extensive” investigation of the KFC case led to the arrest of Ebonee Andra Saymon Middleton, 21, of Charleston, S.C., on multiple felony charges. Middleton is accused of possession of five or more counterfeit instruments, conspiracy to obtain property by false pretense and obtaining property by false pretense.
Other charges are possible involving the two additional businesses victimized in Mount Airy. “Based on what we know, we feel that the three are related,” Barker said Thursday.
He said the four to six suspects believed to be involved either passed the bills directly, assisted those who did or were otherwise in their presence while the crimes occurred.
“We’re in the process of obtaining videos from different locations,” Barker said of investigative efforts to identify all those responsible.
The scope of the counterfeiting case possibly extends beyond Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain and Winston-Salem and could be interstate in nature, according to Barker, given that one of the known suspects is from South Carolina.
Barker said the area law enforcement departments are working with the U.S. Secret Service on the case. That agency was formed in 1865 solely to suppress counterfeiting, which was prevalent after the Civil War, and later added presidential security to its operations
Lt. Barker said the counterfeiting activity in Mount Airy this week highlights the need for close inspection of bills changing hands in the marketplace.
This is typically a practice by cashiers accepting money from the public, but that precaution also should be extended to the bills customers get, Barker said.
“It’s always a good idea,” he added, “for businesses or individuals receiving money to check those bills and make sure they feel right to you before you accept them.”
One key is that genuine currency paper has tiny red and blue fibers embedded throughout, according to information from the Secret Service.
Counterfeiters frequently try to simulate these fibers by printing tiny red and blue lines on their paper, the federal agency says. But a close inspection will reveal that on bogus notes the lines are printed on the surface and not embedded in the paper.
Attention also should be given to the quality of printing and paper characteristics of a bill.
Barker said haste often is a factor when someone receives counterfeit money unknowingly, but taking a little extra time to check it can prevent much grief later.
“In the world we live in, everyone’s in a hurry,” he said.
“Sometimes we all need to slow down a little bit and be more observant of what’s going on around us.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.