LARGO, Florida - The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office announced Monday the arrest of two men in a counterfeit cash scheme that ripped off major retailers.
Christopher William DiPasquale and Robert Stanley Kowalczy were arrested following a sting operation that had been ongoing since at least last year.
During a press conference where he showed off the fake $100 bills, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualteri called the operation "sophisticated" because of the technology and investment behind it.
According to the sheriff's office, the men use regular household de-greaser to wash the ink from $1 bills, then scrubbed them clean for any remaining residue.
"After those bills were printed in the software applications that they had developed themselves and had some help with from people out in California, at that point they were able to take the money and touch it up using paint and using lacquer," said Sheriff Gualteri.
The man also reportedly used an elaborate process to launder the phony money, targeting major retailers who were none the wiser.
Sheriff Gualteri detailed how both men would purchase items at retailers such as Lowe's, Home Depot, and mega retailer Walmart using the fake cash. The duo would then go to other store locations and return the items in exchange for a cash refund.
Clerks never caught on to the scam because the money felt and looked real.
"They're holding it up and they're looking at it, but it doesn't look quite right. But when you see the weave in the cotton and you look at the colors and stuff, and it passed the pen test, [you] take it. And not once, nor in any of the surveillance on him doing this, not once did a clerk not accept the money," said Gualteri when discussing the sting operation that reportedly caught DiPasquale pulling off the scheme.
While retailers were unable to catch the scam, banks eventually did because of their more sophisticated machines designed to spot fake bills.
Detectives got their first big break in the case last year after one of the men spent the fake cash at a doctor's office, where a keen-eyed receptionist spotted the worthless paper and alert authorities.
A total of 94 big-name retailers were ripped off by the scam in the Bay area, and all across Florida and in California, where the men also operated.
The sheriff's office has accounted for $100,000 of the fake money, but believes there is more in circulation, because the men also sold the counterfeit cash for $40 apiece to people who wanted it.
The investigation into the counterfeit case is ongoing and now includes the U.S. Secret Service.
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