A Warren County couple is facing multiple forgery charges relating to a counterfeiting operation that spread into Franklin County.
Robert J. Ellis, 36, and Samantha C. Ellis, 38, have been charged with three felony counts of forgery, and two felony counts of possession of a forging instrument.
Samantha Ellis also was charged with one felony count of possession of a controlled substance.
The husband and wife are from the Marthasvile area near Holstein.
Charges against Samantha Ellis were filed Tuesday, Dec. 5, in Warren County Associate Circuit Court. Charges against her husband were filed the next day.
The couple has not been linked to the 27 reports of counterfeit cash reported in Union this year, up from just four in 2016, Union police said. There are no suspects in almost all of the cases.
Police have applied for charges against a St. Clair woman in connection to counterfeiting, but no charges have been filed.
“It’s extremely difficult to prove,” said Union Police Capt. Kyle Kitcher, adding that often, an individual or group will create counterfeit bills — some very convincing — and will saturate the area with the bills. If they’re not caught immediately, the cash changes hands “so quickly and fluidly” it’s difficult to determine the origination.
The Secret Service collects the counterfeit cash periodically to log serial numbers, police said.
Washington police said the couple and their associates were the primary suspects in a rash of counterfeit bills discovered in the city this year.
Washington police said they had been working with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department during the investigation into the counterfeit bills. The Warren County Sheriff’s Department received a search warrant on the suspects Tuesday.
According to a probable cause statement filed by the Warren County Sheriff’s Department, deputies received information in August that Robert and Samantha Ellis were taking part in the manufacture of counterfeit money.
Deputies searched the couple’s home in the 17000 block of Mill Street and located “several items used in the manufacturing of counterfeit money,” according to the statement. Deputies reported finding a Hewlett Packard printer, ink cartridges, stencils, gold markers, gel pens and ink stamps.
Deputies also reported finding a paper cutter, multiple sheets of counterfeit $20 bills, counterfeit checks and counterfeit identifications cards, according to the statement.
A small bag containing a crystal-like substance believed to be methamphetamine was located in Samantha Ellis’ purse along with other counterfeit currency.
The couple is scheduled to be in court Wednesday, Dec. 13.
Washington police arrested a man earlier this week for counterfeiting at Miller’s Grill.
Police said the man is facing charges for counterfeiting and drug possession. The man was an employee at the restaurant.
Police were contacted by the owner of Miller’s Grill after he found two counterfeit $20 bills in the register last weekend. On Monday, Dec. 4, the owner found another fake $20 bill.
The owner believed the bills were put in the register by an employee. Police interviewed the employee who then confessed to knowingly swapping out fake $20 bills for real ones.
The man told police he did not pass counterfeit bills anywhere else.
Fake Cash Spotted
Washington officers have responded to numerous reports of counterfeit cash in recent weeks. On Tuesday, Dec. 5, police took reports of fake bills from Lowe’s, KFC, and Shoe Carnival.
Police also said there were three reports of the phony bills at Walmart, including one case on Black Friday. Police are investigating surveillance footage and trying to identify a suspect.
One fake bill was turned in to the police station. A man reported being turned down at Ace Hardware for trying to spend a fake $20 bill. The man told police he had gotten the bill as change from Dollar General the day before.
Most of the fake money recovered have been $20 bills, with some businesses reporting finding fake $50 bills. Washington police have been handling counterfeit cash cases since March.
After the first wave in March, bills popped up again in late August and early September. Police said the bills returned to area businesses in late November.
Washington police have been working off and on with the United States Secret Service to investigate the fake bills.
Look Out for Fakes
Police are still cautioning businesses and consumers to double-check any cash received to determine if it’s real or fake.
One way to check if cash is real is to feel the money — real bills have a different feel than what is being passed around, police said.
Another way to spot a phony is to hold the bill up to a light. Newer $10s, $20s and higher denomination bills have hidden watermarks. The images and words can only be seen when the bill is exposed to light.
Police said the easiest way to check if a bill is bad or not is to look at the lower right-hand corner. On newer bills the number is a hologram that “shimmers” when the bill is moved around.
The number appears to change color from green to gold. Counterfeiters can’t duplicate that effect.
Karen Butterfield, Missourian staff writer, contributed to this article.