A joint investigation into a counterfeiting operation by the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department and the Smithville Police Department has led to the arrest of three people.
Sheriff Patrick Ray says 23 year old Megan Ann Lann and her boyfriend, 27 year old Samer Walid Abdalla both of Pine Grove Road, Smithville are each charged with the forging or counterfeiting of instruments or currency.
They are accused of producing at least $800 to $1,000 in counterfeit $10 and $20 bills on a desk and laptop computer and printer in their home and then passing some of those bills at local and area businesses.
Detective Sergeant Jerry Hutchins' Jr. says the Smithville Police Department has also charged Lann and 22 year old Jason Ryan Chapman of 212 North Mill Street, Dowelltown with passing counterfeit bank bills as currency.
Chapman, an employee of Walmart in Smithville, could be seen on a videotape from the store's surveillance camera , along with Lann, making purchases at Walmart with some of the counterfeit money.
Bond for Abdalla is set at $50,000; $15,000 for Lann; and $20,000 for Chapman.
All are scheduled to appear in General Sessions Court on the charges April 24th.
Sheriff Ray and Detective Sergeant Hutchins say counterfeit bills have shown up at several businesses in recent days, including Walmart, McDonald's, Rite Aid Pharmacy, Mapco Express, Jewel's Market, Subway, and the BP station on West Broad Street. Hutchins says the bills have no water marks or bar codes and some were not cut squarely. The bills also have some of the same serial numbers.
There have also been reports of counterfeit bills showing up in Smith and Putnam counties which may be related to this case.
Sheriff Ray says local authorities got a break in the investigation last week when someone phoned in a tip identifying Lann as a possible suspect. "We had a tip from somebody who called in and said Lann was the one who was manufacturing the money. I contacted Jerry (Hutchins) and told him and we went and picked up Chapman (a friend of Lann) and brought him up to the jail for questioning. After questioning Chapman, we went out to Pine Grove Road and picked up Megan and her boyfriend, Abdalla. We confiscated a lap top computer, a desk computer and printer. We also found in the house, pieces of paper that was cut out about the size of a bill. You could actually see on the bottom where they didn't cut it just exactly straight. They cut off some of the bill. We came back, questioned them and all three of them gave statements."
According to Sheriff Ray, both Abdalla and Lann were involved in manufacturing the counterfeit bills. "He was the one who did most of the printing. He took a 20 bill, stuck it in a printer and used a certain kind of paper, found out how easy it was and then they (Abdalla and Lann) passed some of it, just to see if they could. We didn't find any (phony bills) on them but in their statements, they told us they made somewhere between $800 and $1,000 worth of the fake money. They had printed quite a few $20 bills and some $10's."
Detective Sergeant Hutchins says a videotape from a Walmart security camera also assisted in solving the case. "On March 21st a patrol officer responded to Walmart in reference to counterfeit money showing up. The case was assigned to me and I received the videotape from the manager of Walmart that shows an employee, Jason Chapman basically passing $40 in counterfeit currency to purchase items there. It also shows Mr. Chapman, Ms. Lann, and Mr. Abdalla entering the store together. It showed Ms. Lann purchasing items and paying for them with approximately $240 dollars in counterfeit currency. I developed a lead in the city and he (Sheriff) had some tips in the county he had come up with and we put our information together and was able to resolve the case."
Chapman is charged with two counts of passing counterfeit bank bills as currency. In one case on March 21st, he allegedly made purchases at Walmart using fake bills. In the second case on March 25th, Chapman allegedly used phony money to purchase some items from a private citizen.
Lann allegedly purchased a DVD player from the Walmart store in Smithville using counterfeit bills. Abdalla later took the DVD player to the Walmart store in McMinnville and exchanged it for cash. McMinnville Police are investigating that case and may bring charges there against Abdalla.
Both Sheriff Ray and Detective Sergeant Hutchins say about $400 in counterfeit bills have been confiscated but a lot more could be out there "floating around."
According to Sheriff Ray, some people are innocently carrying some of the counterfeits "I have had some calls from people who have either gone to a business to let them check their money because they heard there was a bunch of (fake) 20's going around or some innocent people have tried to pass $20 bills at stores for whatever they got there and found the bills to be fake when they were checked."
Sheriff Ray adds that one local person, who recently dined out at Cheddars in Cookeville, made payment for his meal and discovered that some of the change he got back was apparently counterfeit. "When he went to buy something at a local store, they checked the bill and it was fake. He then let them check all the bills. He later called and told me he had got some of this fake money at Cheddars. He went to eat there, he gave them money, they gave him back change, and it was fake."
Business owners and operators are urged to check all $20 and $10 bills and report any counterfeit bills to the Sheriff's Department or Smithville Police Department.
More arrests and charges may be forthcoming.