ELLSWORTH, Maine — Local police have broken up what they describe as a fledgling counterfeiting operation.
Working with the U.S. Secret Service, Ellsworth officers continue to investigate the operation, which allegedly printed and passed a few $100 bills in the Ellsworth area, Ellsworth Police Chief John DeLeo said Tuesday.
Police were called to the Family Dollar Store last week after clerks discovered what appeared to be counterfeit $100 bills. A woman had come into the store on Jan. 26 and purchased some items and presented a clerk with two $100 bills, DeLeo said. The clerk changed the bills, but, later became leery of them and used an ink pencil to check the bills’ authenticity.
“She could see then that they were fraudulent,” DeLeo said.
Ellsworth police Officer Chad Wilmot was able to track down the woman who had passed the bills, and he later arrested Matisha Pitts, 24, of Ellsworth on charges of theft by deception and violation of conditions of release.
Pitts is the only person who has been charged in the case so far, but Wilmot said investigators are still working on exactly how many people may have been involved in the operation. The case remains under investigation, and additional charges for Pitts and others are likely, DeLeo said.
The chief said that after her arrest Pitts said that the bills had been printed on computers at the Barbara Hance House, a transitional homeless shelter on Surry Road where Pitts had been staying.
The bills, the chief said, were printed on regular paper.
“This appears to be a small-scale operation,” DeLeo said. “They were printing the bills on regular paper. There’s nothing high-tech about it. They were not using plates or any of the old-style forgery techniques.”
Based on what Pitts said, police obtained a warrant for the Hance House on Jan. 28 and seized several computers from the premises including computers that belonged to some of the residents there and one “house” computer that belongs to Hance House. There is nothing to indicate that any of the staff at Hance House is involved in the counterfeiting operation, DeLeo said.
Investigators from the Secret Service are searching the computers for the programs used in printing the bills, he said.
The search did not turn up any additional bills, and DeLeo said they do not know whether, or how many, other bills may have been printed. At this point, DeLeo said, they have discovered only the two bills that were used at the Family Dollar Store.
“It seems as if the first place they went was a store that recognized the bills were fake,” he said. “We may have been able to nip this in the bud.”
Officer Wilmot, who conducted the search of the Hance House, said it appears that this is a fairly isolated incident.
Anyone who may have been a victim or who has information concerning the counterfeiting ring may contact the Ellsworth Police Department at 667-2168 or firstname.lastname@example.org.