ROCK HILL — Three York County residents with several prior convictions for shoplifting and receiving stolen goods passed more than 30 counterfeit bills at several Rock Hill eateries and convenience stores within the last month, police say.
Police arrested Markeith Davon Hatcher, 24 and Jarvis Tyrron Hughes, 29, both of Rock Hill, and Brandi Ervin, 24, of York, charging them with forgery and uttering after they apparently received “a knot” of fake $20 bills and circulated them within the city, said Rock Hill Police Detective Keith Dugan.
Officials obtained video footage of the three suspects passing the duplicated $20 bills at several areas around town, Dugan said.
They didn’t strategically target a specific neighborhood or area, Dugan said, but each time their method was the same: “They buy a $1 menu item and get cash back. They actually knew exactly what they were doing.”
Last month, an employee at the Dollar General on East Main Street noticed that three $20 bills she was given were fake. According to police documents, Hatcher walked into the store and tried to make change. The employee compared the bills to an authentic $20 bill while Hatcher paced back and forth in front of the cashier’s counter.
After getting the opinion of another employee, the clerk told Hatcher she was calling the police. Hatcher claimed he didn’t know the bills were fake and he ran to a nearby store.
Both employees identified Hatcher from surveillance video and a photo lineup. Days later, police arrested Hatcher at his Hollydale Drive home.
During the investigation, officials determined Hughes and his girlfriend, Brandi Ervin, also were involved in the scheme.
All three suspects said their supplier was a man operating in Rock Hill who goes by the alias “J.K.” or “K.J.,” Dugan said.
Police gave Hatcher, Hughes and Ervin three weeks to come forward with information that would identify their supplier.
None did, Dugan said, and conflicting statements along with changing stories prompted officials to call in the Secret Service.
The Secret Service’s investigation is ongoing, Dugan said, but all three suspects could now be facing federal indictments, he said.
Dugan said police do not expect to make any other arrests.
Numerous bills passed
For several weeks, local businesses and fast food restaurants reported receiving fake money from customers.
In some instances, clerks and cashiers were able to identify the money as fraudulent. In others, unwitting patrons paid for food and merchandise with fake money.
Such was the case for one Concord, N.C., man who, after leaving his job in Pineville, N.C., Monday night, went to eat at the McDonalds on South Cherry Road only for the cashier to tell him that his $20 was fake, according to a police report.
The man told authorities he didn’t know the bill, which he got from tip money at work, was phony.
The businesses targeted for the fake bills lost the money with no hope of reimbursement, Dugan said.
“They failed to check the bill properly,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”
Clerks at stores and restaurants may not know how to check for fake bills, Dugan said, or they might be in a hurry to complete a transaction.
In some cases, employees may feel like they’re harassing customers. “They don’t want to challenge them, so they take the bill,” he said.
Sometimes it doesn’t show up until money is deposited, forcing authorities to figure out if the clerks themselves are involved with counterfeiting.
“The bills aren’t hard to tell that they’re fake,” he said.
Fake or real?
A good look at President Andrew Jackson’s face on a $20 bill can help determine if a bill is real or fake. A hologram of Jackson’s face should appear on the right side of the bill once it’s held up to the light.
If the hologram doesn’t match the emblem of Jackson’s face in the center of the bill, then the currency is fake, Dugan said. Jackson’s face is the one security feature the counterfeiters were unable to successfully reproduce, he said.
A pen to detect counterfeit money isn’t an end-all solution to discerning fake bills. “Don’t use it as a primary source,” Dugan said.
Some dollar bills, he said, are now bleached, making the detecting pen useless.
“That pen doesn’t work on a bleached bill,” he said. “If you take that bill down to its original pigment with acetone, that pen no longer works. It’s skewed.”
When the bills are held to the light, there should be a magnetic strip that details the dollar amount of the currency.
A counterfeit bill is without the strip and other security features – such as the president’s face – that are difficult to reproduce, he said.
Employees at the Pep Boys store on Cherry Road – victims of a counterfeit $20 bill last week – are trained to mark bills with a pen capable of detecting fake money, said Phillip Hart, store manager.
If cashiers feel a bill is suspect, they either tell the customer that they’ll have to pay with a different type of currency or the store will take the money and call the police.
“We don’t want to tell the customer there’s an actual counterfeit,” Hart said. “If it’s fake and they leave, we call the police and let the police try to track it.”
In the past, customers have paid with fake $100 bills, Hart said. Even though police took the bill into custody and investigated the counterfeit, the business took a hit.
“We take a loss on it and we have to go in and just zero that money out,” he said.
Counterfeit bills are becoming a common sight in Rock Hill, Dugan said. Officials have recently spotted several $5 bills being bleached as $100 bills.
“And, those are coming out of Charlotte,” he said.
Officials suspect that there could be hundreds more fake bills throughout the city.
Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082