ORLANDO (Orlando Sentinel) — For months, federal authorities say, Larry Antonio Graham went to an Orlando Bank of America branch where he exchanged $20 bills for $5 bills.
Graham told a teller he made these frequent exchanges because his uncle owned a mom-and-pop store and needed smaller denominations to make change for customers.
But authorities say Graham really wanted the smaller denominations so he could turn them into $100 bills.
A U.S. Secret Service investigation found Graham was running a counterfeiting operation out of his Orange County, Fla., home, which involved bleaching genuine $5 bills and turning the notes into $100 bills.
In such counterfeiting operations, genuine money is typically bleached with household chemicals to remove the ink. A new denomination is then printed on the paper.
These counterfeit bills often go unnoticed because markers used to detect fake money won’t pick up on the fakes, because the paper is authentic.
“There is quite a bit of effort and thought that goes into it,” said Jim Glendinning, the assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service’s Orlando field office. “This is a well thought-out crime that takes many steps to complete.”
In Central Florida, counterfeit money is a fairly constant issue, Glendinning said.
Often, the bleached dollars are manufactured in other countries, so prosecution of such cases isn’t frequent.
When Apopka, Fla., police arrested Graham in December, officers said, he had $3,000 in counterfeit bills.
The $100 bills were originally $5 bills. Court records showed the $100 bills in Graham’s possession shared the same four serial numbers.
Locally, Glendinning said, counterfeiters usually don’t manufacture a huge amount of money at one time. They’ll print what they want to use, or what they know they can sell.
In Graham’s case, a confidential source told agents Graham used some of the counterfeit money himself, but sold the fake $100 bills for
The Secret Service reports that advancements in digital-printing technology make it possible to produce a passable counterfeit bill with relative ease.
About 60 percent of counterfeit money passed in the U.S. last year was produced using digital printing, compared with less than 1 percent in 1995, the agency reports.
Still, counterfeiting is not easy, Glendinning said.
Counterfeiters have to obtain an image that appears authentic, and when it comes to printing, have to make sure everything is aligned properly.
Agents who searched Graham’s home in March found a laptop, printer, memory stick, paper cutter and three bottles of bleaching chemicals.
Agents also found 63 pages of uncut sheets containing 130 fake $100 bills, 162 genuine bleached $5 bills and nine counterfeit $100 bills.
The Secret Service maintains a database that tracks serial numbers found on counterfeit money. Agents tracked the numbers found on Graham’s counterfeit money to hundreds of other instances.
Most of the counterfeit notes were linked to the Greater Orlando area, court records show.
Nationally, the Secret Service recovered roughly $154 million in passed and seized counterfeit money last year. About 2,500 people were arrested in the U.S. and about 385 people were arrested in foreign countries for counterfeit-related charges last year alone.
Graham was indicted by federal prosecutors in Orlando earlier this year on a dozen counterfeiting charges. He recently pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in November. Each count carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
©2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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