Levy James Newberry was in need of money so he took matters into his own hands.
He made it on a printer at the New Port Richey Public Library, detectives say. Newberry, 28, was arrested on Sept. 1, but his case is just the tip of a big green iceberg, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
Thanks in part to a burgeoning opioid epidemic and technology that makes it easier to print fake money, investigations into counterfeit operations in Pasco County have jumped by about 50 percent this year, detectives say.
"We are seeing operations that print $10,000 in counterfeit bills a day," Detective Spencer Hubbell said.
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Last month, detectives received a call from New Port Richey landlord Teresa Spitzer about Newberry, one of her tenants at 9041 Rye St.
Spitzer said Newberry gave her currency that he said he printed at the library for fun. When Spitzer said she was calling the police, Newberry ran away, an arrest affidavit said. That’s when Spitzer found several printed sheets of what appeared to be counterfeit $5, $10 and $20 bills on the floor of Newberry’s bedroom.
When detectives approached a nervous and sweating Newberry, he said he found "legal printable money" while searching the Pinterest website at the library and began printing the bills there.
After his arrest and a reading of his Miranda rights, Levy told investigators he purchased cotton-blended paper at a Walmart and then used it to print the counterfeit bills at the library. He said he disposed of some of the sheets in a sewage drain, but found a buyer on Facebook willing to pay $250 for $500 worth of funny money.
He said he was nervous because he was already on probation for dealing in stolen property. He was taken to the Land O’ Lakes jail and held without bond on a charge of forgery/bank bills.
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Pasco detectives say they are investigating about 10 counterfeiting cases per week.
In some cases, people print bills. In other cases, they bleach out a lower-denomination bill, typically a $10 note and, using increasingly sophisticated equipment, print over that with a higher-value note like a $50 or $100.
On Wednesday afternoon, Christina Quinn, 41, of 6430 Gainsboro Drive, Port Richey, was charged with passing a fake $100 bill at Ollies, a local department store.
The bill, according to an affidavit, was originally a $10 note that had been "washed" to look like a $100.
When deputies went to arrest Quinn, they didn’t have to look far. She was already at Land O’ Lakes jail on previous counterfeiting charges.
Detectives say Quinn was making money to cover a drug habit.
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Detectives say that the bulk of those victimized by counterfeiters are large big-box stores, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants with high customer volume and lots of cash exchanged. That makes it harder to check, said Detective Anthony Cardillo, adding that the fake bills are often not spotted until the money is counted the next day, making it harder to track down suspects.
But detectives say they are seeing a spike in counterfeit money used in drug deals, at garage sales and on Craigslist.
In May 2017, a Port Richey man sold a motorcycle to a buyer named "Alex," who drove away before the seller could realize that the envelope of cash he received was fake.
Last month, deputies stopped Gregorio Gonzalez, 30, of Port Richey, who was speeding on a Harley-Davidson. It turned out to be the one that was purchased with counterfeit money, according to an affidavit. Gonzalez was arrested on a charge of vehicle theft. He was released on bond.
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Because the technology is improving, the job of detecting counterfeiting is getting harder, detectives say.
"We’ve seen some absolutely excellent counterfeit currency that took us a significant amount of time to determine if it was counterfeit," Hubbell said. Some of it was so realistic that Pasco investigators had to send it to the Secret Service to make the determination.
Many of the bills can’t even be detected by the pens widely used by tellers and cashiers, he said.
As members of a Secret Service task force, Hubbell and Cardillo can pitch cases for federal prosecution, but that usually take a higher threshold of funds.
"But we try to prosecute anyone we can, because this hurts our local businesses," said Cardillo, noting that those who receive counterfeit bills have no way to recoup their losses.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman