Yampa Valley law enforcement cracking down on counterfeit money
Craig Police Department investigators are working with other law enforcement agencies in the Yampa Valley to keep residents from falling victim to counterfeit currency.
In the last six months, several arrests have been made related to counterfeit currency in Craig and fake bills taken off the streets.
"There are suspects that have been charged," said Craig Police Department Capt. Bill Leonard. "However, right now the plan we are working with is, because there have been cases in Hayden and Steamboat, we're working with investigators in Steamboat and an officer in Hayden to put all the cases together."
According to an analysis of Craig Press police blotter entries for 2018 and 2019, police in Craig reported either confiscating or obtaining counterfeit bills at least five times since October — many of them $100 bills.
The Craig Press obtained three felony arrest records on charges of possession of a forged instrument — arrest records for Fredrick Charles Battle, 47, of Craig, Jessie Allen Grubbs, 27, of Hayden, and Hec Merton Mcentee, 43, of Hayden.
According to an arrest affidavit in Mcentee's case, on Feb. 26 police found five $100 bills with "markings that are not consistent with U.S. currency," in a backpack that allegedly belonged to Mcentee. Mcentee posted a $750 bond Feb. 27. Mcentee also faces other misdemeanor charges and a felony charge of possession of an explosive or incendiary device.
According to an arrest affidavit in Grubbs' case, Craig police found a fake $100 bill in Grubbs' jacket pocket after arresting him on a misdemeanor warrant Feb. 7. Police said they found heroin and items commonly used to smoke the drug, so Grubbs is also facing a felony drug possession charge and a possession of drug paraphernalia charge. Grubbs was freed on a $1,000 public recognizance bond Feb. 8.
There was no arrest affidavit available for Battle, who bonded out on a $1,000 bond March 6.
In an email, Steamboat Springs Police Department Operations Commander Annette Dopplick said their team responded to at least two possible reports of counterfeit currency in the last six months, but none yet this year. Dopplick said SSPD works with federal agencies on counterfeit currency to combat the fly-by-night nature of those often possessing fake bills.
"SSPD collaborates with the U.S. Secret Service very early in any counterfeit investigation," Dopplick said. "In fact, we are usually in contact with our S.S. field agent while on the originating call. In general, counterfeiting crime tends to be transient in nature and offenders move quickly to escape detection."
However, Leonard said any federal involvement in Craig's investigation at this point is "kind of unlikely," because CPD investigators, in conjunction with the district attorney, have already identified state criminal charges for suspects caught with fake bills.
Leonard said it isn't likely someone locally is printing bills. Instead, the bills are likely bought in bulk on a website.
"Most of these bills in these cases are ones purchased online and they're clearly marked — although very small — that they're not intended to be valid currency," Leonard said. "Unfortunately, some people have accepted those as valid and we've had to put out this information. It's frustrating that places can sell real looking currency, that people can buy it online and then use it as real currency and we unfortunately we have people accept it."
In the email, Steamboat police gave residents several tips to avoid being ripped off by fake money:
• An ultraviolet light source can be used to verify authenticity on some notes.
• Report counterfeit attempts immediately. Be attentive to descriptions and vehicles associated to the attempt.
• Bank personnel are experts. If you are accepting cash for a large purchase, consider visiting a local branch of your bank and ask for assistance verifying the currency.
• Security surveillance of point-of-sale locations can be an effective deterrent to fraud, including counterfeit fraud.
• Follow best practices for all personal transactions. Choose a public place (preferably with surveillance), identify all individuals using photo IDs, complete a bill of sale, have a witness, verify currency as authentic, take photographs of the involved property or make a video recording of the transaction. Be willing to stop the transaction. When something feels wrong, it usually is.
• Help the vulnerable in the community protect against fraud. It is especially important to talk to your aging family members about the increasing sophistication in counterfeiting.
• Be a mindful caregiver when monitoring a child's fundraising activities. Help kids learn what to look for.
• Be familiar with legitimate currency. A guide is available at https://www.secretservice.gov/data/KnowYourMoney.pdf. Small business owners are encouraged to order the printed brochure as it can be very useful for employees to have at point-of-sale locations.
In evidence photographs obtained by the Craig Press courtesy of the Craig Police Department, the fake $100 bill appears to bear a small, bright orange symbol “kinda like the head of a dog to the right of the 100,” Leonard said.
The bill also has an Asian seal Leonard said could be Chinese.
With this in mind, Leonard said residents can be on the lookout for the symbols.
"The last time I checked, Benjamins don't have a Chinese seal on them," Leonard said. "I don't think that's what Ben intended."