More funny money cropping up: Real $5 bills being bleached out,

Chicago Sun-Times,  Mar 20, 2006  by Frank Main

 Not only did Gabriel V. Folkes admit to making fake currency -- he even showed Secret Service agents how.

After his arrest last May, Folkes and the agents returned to his South Side motel room. As a video camera rolled, he bleached legitimate $5 notes and printed $100 fakes on the blank paper. Folkes admitted to providing a police informant with $8,300 in phony money in exchange for $1,900 in genuine currency. He was sentenced to probation.

The bleaching method Folkes used is becoming more common in northern Illinois, which has seen a recent rise in counterfeiting, said Russell C. Collett, assistant special agent in charge of the Secret Service's office in Chicago.

About 25 percent more counterfeit currency was passed in this region in 2004 than in 2003, compared with about 15 percent more nationally -- the most recent statistics available.

Detector pens aren't foolproof

Collett said his office is encouraging store clerks, bartenders and anyone else who handles currency to become familiar with the security features that have recently been built into the bills. Twenties, for example, have a watermark of Andrew Jackson and a "USA Twenty" security thread that both become visible when held up to light.

It's easy to detect counterfeit $20 bills that have been printed on bleached $5 notes because they will have a portrait of Jackson, but a watermark of Abraham Lincoln and a security thread that says "USA FIVE," Collett said.

He said businesses should visually inspect bills instead of relying on counterfeit detector pens they often provide to their clerks.

The pens react to starch in ordinary paper by creating a black mark. The paper in U.S. currency does not have any starch, and the pens make a golden mark on it.

The problem is that the pens will make the same golden mark on counterfeit currency created with legitimate $5 notes that have been bleached out and reprinted as fake $20s, $50s and $100s.

"These pens provide a false sense of security," said Collett, whose agency has been investigating counterfeit currency since 1865.

Anyone who spots a fake bill should try to take down a description of the person passing the currency and any other identifiers such as a license plate number, and call 911, Collett said.

Businesses in the Wentworth Police District on the South Side have recently noticed an upswing in counterfeit currency. The Secret Service is planning to meet with store owners there to tell them what to look for.

Chicago street gangs such as the Black Disciples have become active in counterfeiting, learning the basics from prison contacts and fellow gang-bangers on the street, Collett said.

"They may do drugs one day, guns the other day and counterfeit on the third day," he said. "They pepper real currency with fake currency because they want to rip each other off."

Not all gang members are using the bleaching method, however.

Francis Y. Ishaya, a reputed member of the Assyrian Kings, was sentenced to 11 months in prison in 2004 after he admitted trading cocaine for $5,350 in counterfeit currency. The phony money was made on an ink-jet printer and did not have any of the security features on genuine currency, authorities said.