St. Augustine police: Fresh smell leads to discovery of $800 in fake bills

Police warn business owners to watch out for counterfeit cash

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Colette DuChanois - Web producer

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The St. Augustine Police Department is warning business owners to be wary of fake bills.

The warning comes after police said $800 worth of counterfeit $20 bills, which had a very clean smell, were discovered during a traffic stop Monday.

According to the Police Department, an officer in the area of State Road 207 and Ponce De Leon Boulevard pulled over a car with a stolen tag/attached tag not assigned.

Police said the driver was taken into custody. Michael Rose, 35, was arrested on a nonmoving traffic violation charge, according to St. Johns County jail records.

A search of the vehicle turned up $800 in $20 bills, which were later determined to be counterfeit, according to police. 

Police noted the bills smelled strongly of laundry detergent, which prompted further investigation. Photos also show red marks on the top corners of the bills. Police said the bills were then confirmed to be counterfeit.

"That raised the flag and then the texture of the money also (is) what made the officers believe the money was counterfeit," said Officer Dee Brown, with the Police Department. 

After the warning from police, News4Jax on Tuesday spoke with shop owners in St. Augustine, who said they regularly check to see if bills are counterfeit. Some stores said they’ve had several cases in which $50 or $100 bills were bleached and passed their tests.

Khadijah James works in Kilwin's Chocolates on St. George Street. She showed News4Jax how they check the cash that comes in every day. She said the store uses a special pen to detect counterfeit bills. Employees also look for watermarks and other signs. Even so, fake money still gets through.  

"We actually just got one in the other day where they are actually bleaching paper dollar bills and re-printing on top of it," James said. "When we mark it with our pens, it goes through because it’s real money and they are reprinting on top of it."

A spokesman for the Secret Service, which handles counterfeit cases, told News4Jax there has not been an increase, but counterfeiting had been constant. He said the federal agency makes, on average, one to two arrests on counterfeit charges a week. He added that many would be surprised at the condition of some of the bills that get passed on.

As for the St. Augustine case, charges are pending, according to the Police Department. It will be up to the State Attorney's Office to determine whether counterfeit charges are filed. 

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