Authorities are investigating possible connections between a counterfeiting arrest in West Fargo on Sunday - followed by the search of a car Monday that turned up more fake bills - and a recent rash of funny money showing up at metro-area businesses.
Fargo police have investigated 13 cases of counterfeit bills passed at businesses since May 15, the latest on Monday at Stop-N-Go at 2501 36th Ave. S. Two fake $20 bills also were passed at a garage sale in Fargo on May 27, Sgt. Mark Lykken said.
Fargo police are looking into whether those cases may be connected to the West Fargo arrest, he said.
West Fargo police were called just before 7 p.m. Sunday about a man who used three fake $20 bills to buy Red River Valley Fair tickets at the Stop-N-Go at 901 Main Ave. E., Detective Sgt. Greg Warren said.
Police used the ticket information and the store's surveillance video to track the suspect to the fairgrounds, Warren said.
There they found the car, a Pontiac Grand Am, and arrested 21-year-old Robert Lee Flores of Moorhead on suspicion of facilitation of counterfeiting, he said.
Police executed a search warrant on the car Monday morning and found an undisclosed amount of counterfeit cash, much of which appeared to be leftovers from the counterfeiting process, Warren said.
"They'll make a ton of money that'll never be used in trying to find the right mix of paper and ink and copying and what's going to work the best," he said. "So (there is) a lot of trial and error with these guys, and I think a lot of this that we got in the car is just that."
The bills sported various textures and shades of ink, with some darker and some lighter, he said.
"Some of it's really bad, and some of it's, of course, much better," he said.
Flores made his first appearance on the Class C felony Monday afternoon in Cass County District Court. Bail was set at $5,000, with 10 percent cash and a promise to appear.
West Fargo detectives were assisting the U.S. Secret Service in investigating the case.
Moorhead police also have taken reports of counterfeit money recently.
The McDonald's at 3009 Highway 10 E. reported that a blond white female in a red Grand Am passed a counterfeit $20 bill in the drive-through on July 5. The same day, police took a call about a potential fake bill from the Stop-N-Go at 1702 30th Ave. S.
Like other local authorities, Moorhead police turn counterfeit cases over to the Secret Service but will continue to work this case to see if there's any connection to the other cases, Lt. Tory Jacobson said.
Counterfeit cases tend to come in bunches, Lykken said, "because many times it's one person doing a majority of the counterfeiting, and then they get caught, and it stops, or they move away."
Lykken said the reasons behind the spike in local counterfeit cases are unclear. Some of the fake bills were found when businesses brought their deposits to the bank, he said.
"I think maybe the banks are training their people better" to detect fake bills, he said.