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Secret Service investigates fake bills


September 09, 2009
Both Crawford and Harrison counties have been in the cross-hairs of the Secret Service in recent days as agents focused on a local counterfeit money operation.

The case began in Harrison County when Officer John Britton of the sheriff's department was called to a local gas station concerning a person who was trying to exchange $10 bills for $20 bills. The person was gone by the time Britton arrived.

Britton said he determined the $10 bills were fake and, with the assistance of the business' security camera, was able to identify the person.

"I was then able to locate the person and talk to him," Britton said. "He gave me another name."

In the meantime, Britton had alerted the Secret Service, which investigates all counterfeit cases, and an agent came to Corydon to assist in the investigation.

With the agent in the patrol car, Britton began searching for the second individual.

"We saw him, at a local business, putting air in a tire," Britton said. "We talked to him and got a third name. While we were looking for the third person, we stopped at Subway to get a sandwich, and the person walked through the door. He gave up the name of yet another person, who was incarcerated in the Craw-ford County Jail. That person gave us even more information."

The next phase of the case developed when there was a vehicle crash near the Harrison-Crawford County line in which both Britton and Crawford County Deputy Sheriff Shawn Scott responded. The deputies had never met but struck up a conversation in which the counterfeit issue came up. Britton told Scott the investigation was focusing on a certain house in Crawford County. Scott had been to the house in recent months while working on another case and had even been inside the residence. He knew there were guns at the house, guard dogs and even a security system. He also knew the layout of the rooms and was somewhat familiar with the living arrangements there.

Secret Service agents, assisted by the sheriff departments from the two counties, began to devise a plan to investigate the residence, located in the 1000 block of Slick Creek Road near Milltown, and got a warrant to search the house. Both Britton and Scott were assigned to stay on the case and work with Secret Service agents.

Over a two-day period, the group worked with maps, satellite photos of the residence and surrounding area, drive-by observations and other investigative tools to prepare to serve the warrant at the house in a safe and secure manner. Officers went to the Crawford County 4-H Community Park and used the pavilion building to lay out the dimensions of the house, where the doors and windows were, where the various rooms were located and where people would be sleeping — and practiced various scenarios they might encounter during the operation.

"We knew where everyone was going to be and what everyone was going to do," Scott said. "The more we planned, the less likely it would be that anyone, including the suspects, and even the neighbors, would be hurt. We wanted to execute the warrant real early in the morning so there wouldn't be kids standing, waiting for a school bus, or before work traffic began."

Officers from other agencies, including the Clark County Special Operations Unit, the Sellersburg-Charlestown SWAT team, Indiana State Police, Crawford County Sheriff's Department and K-9 and the Harrison County SORT, were brought in to assist. In all, more than 30 officers participated.

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, the officers converged near the house at 5:15 a.m. and began the process of serving the warrant.

Crawford County Sheriff Tim Wilkerson said the house was entered without incident and the six people inside were detained for identification and questioning by Secret Service agents and an Indiana State Police detective.

"We were able to confiscate electronic components used to make bills," Britton said. "And when the subjects at the house were interviewed, we got more information. The whole team worked well together, and the Secret Service said that it was one of the quickest cases they had ever worked on."

Officers were reluctant to say if any of those who were detained would be arrested, but they made it clear that more warrants are being sought from the Crawford County prosecutor's office.

"This is still an active investigation," Secret Serv-ice Special Agent Paul Johnson said. "This is usually our M.O. (method of operation). Once we suspect that there's counterfeit printing going on, we work jointly with the local sheriffs to get warrants and serve them. And I have to sing the praise of Sheriff Wilkerson and all the deputies involved. They did outstanding work on this case. We had great cooperation from both Crawford and Harrison County sheriff departments. We just couldn't do it without their help."

"It's not the amount of money that matters," he continued. "The federal government will get involved, even if there's only one counterfeit bill. We take this seriously. We have to protect the integrity of the U.S. currency. We try to put as many of these people as possible in front of a judge and jury.

"But even the best counterfeiter can never make a perfect bill. Bills have been upgraded and now include watermarks and red and blue fibers. People should know their money," Johnson said. "If someone suspects they have a bad bill, compare it to a bill you know is a good one. If it's counterfeit, the difference will jump out at you. And if someone passes you a suspicious looking bill, don't give it back. Get a description of the person, the vehicle they're driving and if possible, their license plate number. Then, notify local police. And, of course, videos are a tremendous help.

"But in the U.S., only 1 percent of 1 percent of bills are actually counterfeit."

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