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'Funny money' probe expands

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

BRIDGEPORT -- Agents from the U.S. Secret Service have joined Bridgeport Police detectives in the investigation of $1,500 in counterfeit money passed at the Meadowbrook Mall during the weekend.

The money was passed Saturday evening by two men, who now are the subjects of a multi-state probe, Bridgeport Police Sgt. Carl Springer said.

"They hit 15 different stores," Springer said. "(The bills) look pretty authentic. You would never know they are fake unless you really know what to look for."

The funny money was discovered after an alert store clerk noticed the bills did not feel right, Springer said.

When the clerk looked more closely at the money, she noticed something unusual. The president in the watermark on one side of the bill winked at her.

"I guess (the counterfeiter) was trying to be funny," Springer said.

But at the stores that were hit, the incident is anything but funny. In such cases, the counterfeit bills are not replaced with real ones, Springer said.

"They're not happy about it, and we don't like to do it," he said.

"But we don't want fake $100 bills out there."

Although store clerks get busy, it still is their responsibility to check money they are given, Springer said.

One way to cut down on losses caused by counterfeiters is to always be observant, even during busy times, he said.

"You're not going to catch them all; we don't even catch them all," Springer said. "Just look at the subjects. If they look nervous or in a hurry, then check the watermarks and (security strips). Check the money carefully."

The subjects kept their purchases under $20 at each store, Springer said. They would make a purchase of a few dollars, and walk away with $70 to $75 in real currency given as change, Springer said.

The fake bills will be turned over to the Secret Service, which is under the U.S. Department of Treasury, and handles all counterfeit money investigations.

Police now are looking for two Hispanic men. The first is 5 feet, 10 inches tall, 180 pounds with black hair. The second is 5 feet, 7 inches tall, 180 pounds with black hair.

The subjects changed clothes before entering each store, Springer said. They are believed to be from the New Jersey area.

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