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No wonder those counterfeit $50 bills reported to Aspen police last week looked so real. They were real.

“At this time, we are deeming them to be genuine,” said U.S. Secret Service Agent Lon Garner.

Several hundred dollars in allegedly bogus bills were discovered at Alpine Bank-Aspen, said Aspen Police Department Detective Brian Heeney.



Heeney said a pair of $50 bills first failed counterfeit testing at the bank, so the bank put all of its $50 bills to the test.

“We had quite a pile of them,” Heeney said.



Technically, there was a little more than $2,900 in the pile. “We’ve forwarded them back to the bank,” agent Garner said.

Garner said the questionable bills were the old design, which was printed before 1996 and feature smaller U.S. presidential portraits than the current design. The bills were also crisp and new.

The bills’ old design, coupled with their mint condition, led some Alpine Bank officials to think the bills could be counterfeit.

“The newer bills are harder to counterfeit,” said Joe Scofield, President of Alpine Bank-Carbondale.

Scofield said the Federal Reserve Bank found one of the $50 bills at the Carbondale bank last month, and told him it was counterfeit. This week, the Secret Service called to say the bill was genuine.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Scofield said.

Some who came into contact with the bills wondered where they have been lying all these years, because the design hasn’t been printed since 1996. Garner said they were probably put into circulation by a private party who had them stashed in a safe, vault or safe deposit box.

“This isn’t unusual,” Garner said.

Both banks tested the suspected bills with detection pens, which indicated they might be counterfeit. Garner said detection pens aren’t 100 percent reliable. “We don’t endorse them,” Garner said.

Federal banks have their own detection machines, which kick out suspected bills as they are passed through. Garner declined to explain how these machines operate.

Garner said there has been somewhat of an increase in counterfeit bills generated by ink jet printers in recent years, but overall the crime isn’t growing. Most counterfeiting in the United States occurs on the East and West coasts.

“We don’t see much out here,” said Garner, whose region includes Wyoming, Utah and Idaho.

Nationwide, less than 0.05 percent of all the currency in circulation is counterfeit. “And of that, we seize about 90 percent,” Garner said.

To be on the safe side in the Aspen case, the Secret Service sent one of the questionable $50 bills to its forensic laboratory in Washington, D.C., for further testing, Garner said.

Garner said the penalty for passing counterfeit currency is five to 20 years.

Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534

lburton@postindependent.com


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