The seizure of thousands of dollars in fake money has lead to the arrests of two Limestone County residents.
Investigators seized nearly $23,000 in counterfeit cash as well as $4,400 in legitimate cash and a vehicle while executing a search warrant Tuesday, said Stephen Young, Limestone County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Billy Jay Howell, 47, of Elkmont faces 15 counts of first-degree possession of a forged instrument. Young said additional charges will be sent to a grand jury. Howell is held in the Limestone County Jail on $75,000 bond.
Paula Delaine Paulk, 49, of Elkmont is charged with one count of first-degree possession of a forged instrument. She was released Tuesday from the Limestone County Jail on $5,000 bond.
Young said the sheriff’s office began an investigation into the production of counterfeit money on Dec. 13 when Paulk was captured on a security camera passing counterfeit bills at a local store.
On Monday, deputies responded to the Owens community after receiving reports that a man had attempted to pass counterfeit $100 bills at several stores in the area, Young said.
Deputies located the man matching the description given at the Village Mart on Highway 99. They witnessed him pass the money to Howell in the parking lot. Both men were detained, and investigators were called to the scene, where they found more counterfeit money in Howell’s possession, Young said.
Investigators obtained a search warrant Tuesday for Howell’s residence in the 16000 block of Fort Hampton Road that he shares with Paulk. When they arrived, Paulk was in the back yard starting to burn a trash bag. Investigators put out the fire and found counterfeit money in the trash bag, said Young. They then searched the residence and seized more counterfeit along with real cash, a vehicle, printer, ink, and other items used to produce counterfeit.
The counterfeit seized totaled $22,930 in denominations of $5, $10, $20, and $100 bills. Of the nearly 300 bills seized, only 33 serial numbers had been used. Citizens are encouraged to check their bills for watermark, magnetic strip (on $5 and larger), holographic ink, and proper texture.
Young said this is one of the largest counterfeit busts Limestone County has seen, and people need to be vigilant in checking bills that they are given. Investigators believe there is a large amount of counterfeit still in circulation in the area.
"That is a lot of money, and that is a lot of people that he could’ve truly done a lot of damage to," Limestone County resident, Mason Jackson, said about the bust.
Jackson says he’s heard of people passing counterfeit money, but he never expected to learn that tens of thousands of dollars worth of fake money was being made in Limestone County.
"Why can’t you just go out and actually make the money honestly instead of doing all this fake stuff that causes people harm?”
And Jackson isn’t the only one who’s frustrated.
“They’re hurting everybody. The economy, the businesses, the people who are trying to support their families," George Farmer said. "It’s somebody that has a lot of knowledge and did a lot of schooling, and they should’ve put that to a good cause instead of making counterfeit money.”
WAAY 31 spoke with the investigator who found the fake cash and he says it looks very believable.
He also says counterfeit cash is becoming more common in our area because people are realizing just how easy it is to make.
“People can pick up a printer scanner anywhere and then, basically, self learn and figure out how they can make the bill look how they want it to," Investigator Caleb Durden said.
In the meantime, Mason Jackson says he’s going to be paying closer attention to his dollar bills.
“Be aware and just try to be cautious with just about any bit of money you get," he said.
Investigators with the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office tell WAAY 31 their counterfeit arrests are almost always drug-related.