Indy businesses seeing less counterfeit money, but problem persists

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Business owners and agents with the U.S. Secret Service tell FOX59 they are seeing fewer counterfeit bills around Indianapolis since a major counterfeit operation was busted late last year.

In mid-December, members of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Violent Crimes Unit and Secret Service agents raided a home on North Riley Avenue on the east side of Indianapolis. According to U.S. Attorney Joseph Hogsett, the raid uncovered “one of the most sophisticated counterfeiting operations the city of Indianapolis has ever seen.”

Following the raid, 24-year-old Brandon Clark was arrested and held on federal counterfeiting charges.

As of this week, the Secret Service says they have seized and recovered $558,400 believed to have been printed by the Clark’s operation. The agency says the operation was responsible for a major increase in counterfeit traffic across the state.

And while some of the fake $100 bills attributed to Clark’s operation are still floating around, there has been a decline since the December raid.

In January, the Secret Service received $57,000 in fake cash associated with the Riley Avenue printing operation. In February, that number dropped to $4,300. In March, the total bounced back up to $12,000. By April, it was back down to $2,200. So far in May, only $700 has been seized or recovered.

Business owners along Mass Ave and Broad Ripple tell FOX59 they’ve noticed a decline in the number of fake bills being passed at their establishments.

Jeff Cale, Director of Operations for Rock Lobster, Average Joe’s and Mineshaft, says his businesses never got hit too hard by the counterfeit wave late last year. But he’s heard plenty of stories from other bar and restaurant owners. Those stories are becoming less common.

“I haven’t seen or heard of any fake bills going around in quite a while,” Cale said.

Managers and bartenders at the Alley Cat Lounge, which only deals in cash, also say they’re seeing fewer fake bills.

But the problem hasn’t gone away. And the effects of it are still apparent in some places. Late last year, shortly before the east side operation was shut down, Qdoba restaurants stopped accepting $100 bills. That policy, still in place today, is displayed next to cash registers.

Two nights ago, a man was successful in passing a fake $100 bill at Metro Bar on Mass Ave. The bill was used to purchase a $4 beer. After getting change, the suspect left with a free beer and a $96 profit.

Twice in the last couple days, somebody has been able to pass fake $100 bills at Sullivan Hardware on Keystone Avenue. Owner Pat Sullivan says he is now refreshing his staff on how to spot counterfeit money. Aside from looking closely at the bills themselves, Sullivan is telling his employees to watch out for customers buying small ticket items with large bills.

“They just want the change in legitimate bills,” Sullivan said. “So it’s always going to be just four or five bucks, and that should have tipped off somebody.”

The recently redesigned $100 bills now being printed by the U.S. Mint are much more difficult to counterfeit. But U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Gary Durham says counterfeiters are always working on new ways to reproduce U.S. currency. He urges business owners and managers to print out several pamphlets on the Secret Service website. They have helpful information that can be used to train employees.

Those websites are:

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