TAMPA — Everyone's looking to stretch a buck these days.
But federal officials say two Florida men conspired to turn $387 into $38,700, using bleach, acetone, hydrogen peroxide and a Canon Pixma printer.
Troy B. Andrews, 46, and Robert L. Bazan, 35, are accused of passing former $1 bills as $100 bills. Stripped of George Washington and reprinted with all the trimmings of Benjamin Franklin, the 1981 series rekindled an era of smaller portraits and no water marks.
"It was a fairly good facsimile," said John Joyce, special agent in charge of the Secret Service's Tampa field office.
Banks knew the difference.
Store surveillance cameras and a Secret Service counterfeit database tracked two men on a springtime spending spree along Florida's west coast between Brooksville and Naples, including the Tampa Bay area.
They bought small things, usually, and got a lot of change back.
Both defendants, who were arrested in Sarasota County, are now in the Pinellas County jail.
Andrews, of Sarasota, is scheduled to plead guilty Tuesday to conspiracy and passing counterfeit money, the latter count punishable by up to 20 years.
Bazan, of Port Charlotte, told investigators that Andrews printed the money, though Andrews said Bazan did.
Both face the same charges.
The technique defeated iodine pens used to differentiate counterfeit paper from true Treasury fabric, Joyce said.
Paper, which contains starch, darkens in contact with an iodine solution. Real bills, made of cotton and linen, do not. But as the recent batch of fake money illustrates, iodine has its limits.
"We don't endorse the pen," Joyce said.
The Secret Service would rather educate the public about other clues of authenticity, many of which are illustrated on the agency's website. It alerts people to steer clear of flat, lifeless images, broken borders or unevenly spaced serial numbers.
Some experts recommend refusing old bills. In the mid-1990s, the Treasury put new authenticity measures in place.
If held to the light, newer bills in denominations of $5 or more show a vertical security thread and a water mark. The president in the water mark should match the one on the bill, Joyce said. Ulysses S. Grant, a fixture of fifties, ought not be accompanied by a faint watermark of Abraham Lincoln, a fixture of fives.
And each genuine bill has its own serial number.
The phony hundreds in the latest case all shared the same serial number: D00243387B.
Andrews' plea agreement, filed July 26, put the known loss to retailers "to date" at $38,700.
Checking that wallet?
Joyce cautions that it's a federal crime to knowingly unload a counterfeit bill on someone else.
"The last person holding it becomes the ultimate victim," he said.