Counterfeit Cash Bust in Phoenix; Task Force Gets Tip, Seizes $55,300 in Fake Bills

To Live and Die in L.A. Phoenix.

Thankfully, this big-money bust didn't involve a nail-biting, wrong-way drive on the freeway that made for such a great action scene in the above-linked movie. Nope, just some good detective work by local cops who followed up on a tip a couple of weeks ago.

Members of acronym-heavy task force followed leads, made "contact" with the suspects and seized a small amount of fake currency. (Sounds like undercover officers bought some of the funny money, but the news release from the Department of Public Safety doesn't come out and say it).

About 3 p.m. yesterday, members of the task force descended on a Comfort Inn and 83rd Avenue and McDowell Road and found the rest of the bogus cash (that's some of it in the picture above). Cops arrested three people, two men -- both illegal immigrants -- and an unnamed juvenile.

Seems like a solid bust.

Of course, when the feds do what these suspects are alleged to have done, that's called stimulating the economy.

(Images: Arizona Department of Public Safety)

Text of DPS news release follows

Detectives from HIDTA-MISTIC Seize $55,300 in Counterfeit Cash

On August 11, 2009, around 3:00 pm, Detectives from the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Metro Intelligence Support & Technical Investigation Center (HIDTA-MISTIC) investigation unit seized $55,300.00 in counterfeit U.S. Currency. HIDTA-MISTIC is composed of Detectives from the Office of the Arizona Attorney General (AZAG), Phoenix Police Department (PPD), Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Special Agents from the United States Secret Service (USSS). The unit focuses on investigations into criminal conspiracies and other major crimes.

Detectives received an anonymous tip information approximately 10 days ago which led to an investigation being conducted that uncovered a small criminal syndicate that was producing counterfeit U.S. Currency. Through surveillance, contact with the suspects and verification of investigative leads, detectives were able to seize small amounts of counterfeit money. The investigation further developed with information that led to a search warrant being obtained and executed at the Comfort Suites located at 83rd Avenue and McDowell.

Detectives arrested three suspects, seized $55,300.00 in counterfeit currency (denominations:100's, 50's & 20's) along with other items of evidence related to the criminal activity. The counterfeit cash has an approximate purchase ratio/value of $15-16,000 in real currency to buy approximately $55-60,000 in counterfeit cash. The illegal drug trafficking trade has a direct connection to the production and distribution of counterfeit money. Detectives are continuing the investigation to identify additional suspects.

Suspects Arrested: (Note: Third suspect is a juvenile, classified as a runaway, still being interviewed at the time of the news release.) Ranferi Gregorio Martinez, age 25, undocumented alien, resident of Phoenix Esli Espina-Espina, age 31, undocumented alien, resident of Phoenix

The Office of the Arizona State Attorney General will be handling the case prosecution. Martinez and Espina will be booked into the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office 4th Avenue Jail for the following charges: Conspiracy-Class 2 Felony, Two counts of fraudulent schemes-Class 2 Felony; Operating a criminal syndicate-Class 2 Felony; Operating an illegal enterprise-Class 2 Felony; Three counts of forgery-Class 4 Felony and Three counts of criminal possession of a forgery device-Class 5 Felony.

The following Internet Web link provides information from the United States Secret Service on how to recognize counterfeit currency:

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.