Police say they've made a break in a counterfeit money probe in Greenville thanks to fast acting store clerks. Fake bills have been surfacing in different denominations at different businesses. Now the Secret Service is helping as police work to find the players involved in the operation.
Teresa Reades deals with a steady stream of customers all day at the Marathon gas station on Luverne Highway in Greenville. But she knew right away Thursday when a customer handed her a bad $100 bill.
"A guy came in and asked how much cases of beer were. We told him and he walked out the door and came back in, went back and got a case and said that he needed twenty in gas and he gave me a $100 bill," she told WSFA. "I marked it and it was not real and I told him that I couldn't give it back to him and that I had to give it to the law and he told me that he didn't have time to wait for the police and he left and I kept the $100."
Reades got his tag number and description to police and Levord Thicklin, 22, of Greenville, was caught an hour later at a Chevron gas station down the street after investigators say he was trying to pass another fake $100 bill. That clerk also called police when she spotted the counterfeit bill and officers made it there in time to arrest him.
Counterfeit money has been keeping Greenville police busy. Bad bills have also turned up at Camellia Communications and Walmart. Police say two people passed several fake $100 bills at Walmart on August 28th. They are looking at the possibility that the cases are connected.
"Over the past week, we've seen an increase in the circulation of counterfeit bills here in Greenville. We've had at least four or five different businesses that have reported to us that there have been some counterfeit bills passed to them and we have been investigating those," said Lt. Justin Lovvorn, lead investigator with the Greenville Police Department.
Greenville investigators are working to get to the source of the counterfeit cash.
"We feel like there will be additional arrests made in the near future," Lovvorn said. "We are going to coordinate with the Secret Service because they've become interested in the part of who may be manufacturing this money or distributing to others to pass so they are going to help us with that part of the investigation and possibly be able to pursue federal charges."
In the meantime, police want businesses to be on the lookout for "funny money."
"They just need to be aware that there is counterfeit out there and that it's very popular right now and they need to look at especially any large denomination bills and just verify that it is good currency," Lovvorn added.
Some of the counterfeit bills police found are fakes of the new $100 bill. The counterfeit had a tan tint but the real bills have a grayish, purple color across the whole bill. One of the most obvious differences in the real and fake bills is the wide hologram strip. On the real $100 bills, the hologram strip down the middle is interactive and moves as you move the bill. On the fake bill, the strip does not move and is just smeared on and there's no 3-D effect. On the real bills, there's also a glittery holographic Liberty Bell in the ink well but on the fakes, there's no sparkle to it.
Lovvorn says the easiest way to spot a fake bill is to hold it up to a good light source or hold a flashlight behind it and look for a vertical strip down the left that indicates whatever dollar amount the bill is.
"That strip will be in all real money," he said. "If it's a $50 bill, a $10 bill, a $5 bill or a $20 bill, they're all the same. They're going to have a strip in it somewhere on that left side and it will say whatever the currency is."
Teresa Reades hopes area stores are keeping an eye out for counterfeits so they don't get scammed.
"It's one thing you hear about it but when it comes straight through your store, that's when you know it's there, it's real. It's not just something people talk about," she said. "These people don't care about who they get, as long as they get what they want. They have enough sense to make the money then they have plenty of sense to get a good job."
All of the counterfeit money seized in Greenville will be turned over the Secret Service.
Levord Thicklin faces charges of Passing Counterfeit Currency and Possession of a Controlled Substance. Lovvorn says a search of his car at the time of his arrest turned up 18 pills believed to be Ecstasy.
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