By RICK JERVIS
Herald Staff Writer
The $15,000 in fake money seized this week from a Weston woman is just
of a multimillion-dollar counterfeit industry bustling in Colombia and flowing
through South Florida, federal agents say.
Counterfeiters in Colombia produce fake U.S. bills in underground engraving
plants across the country and funnel them to the United States, mostly through
South Florida, the agents say. They use the same methods as drug rings --
strapping the bills to the bodies of workers, stuffing them in suitcases, sending them
through the mail.
Since last March, a joint investigative effort between U.S. Secret Service
and Colombian police has closed six counterfeit plants in Cali and Bogota and
seized $5 million in fake money, said Ken Keene, agent in charge of the U.S.
Secret Service office in Miami.
The flow of money has been steady.
Secret Service agents have seized $33.5 million in phony cash -- mostly
and 100s -- in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties since 1995. Another
$13 million was spotted by banks or merchants, who called authorities -- and
sometimes suffered a loss.
During the same period, Colombian and U.S. agents shut down 15 counterfeiting
plants in that country and seized about $40 million in fraudulent cash.
Hunting for factories
``Colombia is still one of the major counterfeiting countries,'' said Juliette
captain with Colombia's DIJIN, a department of the national police that tracks
counterfeiters. ``But we're combating it. It's not easy finding those factories.''
Of the money seized locally, about 70 percent came from Colombia, Keene said.
``It's improving, but it's not going away,'' he said.
On Monday, a Winn-Dixie clerk in Northwest Dade noticed something strange
about four $100 bills handed to her by a customer and alerted her manager, who
called police. Miami-Dade officers arrested Isabel Cortez, 40, of Weston, saying
they found her satchel filled with $10,000 in fake money. Another $4,200 in
suspect bills was found in a designer bag.
John Jairo Angulo, 30, of Colombia, also was arrested in connection to
incident, which happened in a shopping center at 5850 NW 183rd St.
Reference numbers and other characteristics on the bills link them to Colombian
manufacturers, Keene said. He would not elaborate on the case, which is under
The phony-money plants are prolific around Colombia, but efforts have increased
to shut them down, Kure said. The plants are usually small, rudimentary and run by
a chain of workers who handle everything from the printing to the distribution.
The money is shipped to Venezuela, Panama, Europe and other parts of the
world, she said.
But a large portion comes to South Florida, at a rate of $50,000 a week,
said. Counterfeiters are replicating the old and the new bills.
Conspirators in South Florida place orders for fake money from Colombia,
come in packages through the mail or, most frequently, through Miami
Traveling by air
In November, U.S. Customs agents at the airport noticed a fake bill in
of a man who had just stepped off an American Airlines flight from Cali and was
on his way to Los Angeles, Keene said. After a further search, they found
$230,000 in alleged fake bills in false compartments in his two gym bags, he said.
Money carriers are not always passengers.
Last year, agents found fake money on a pilot and flight attendant of a
airline. No arrests were made.
``It's a whole network,'' Keene said. ``It's not the same names as the
But they're intertwined.''
Quality is lacking
Colombian counterfeit bills are usually lesser-quality fake bills, made
less-sophisticated, less-expensive offset printing methods, Keene said. Genuine
notes are made through a process called intaglio, which gives a more raised,
three-dimensional quality to the bills, similar to business cards. Money made
through offset printing is flatter.
Also, counterfeit bills are usually produced on a wood fabric with cotton
Real bills are printed on a linen and cotton fabric mix, which feels more like cloth
The differences are easily detected by knowing eyes, Keene said. But most
are good enough to slip past the untrained cashier.
``This is our problem,'' he said. ``It's lesser quality but produced at
a much larger
Herald staff writer Rick Jervis can be reached by email at email@example.com
Copyright © 1999 The Miami Herald