5 Master Criminals in the Art of Faking Money

5 Master Criminals in the Art of Faking Money

Counterfeiting is the ultimate victimless crime. If you give a fake dollar to a vendor, and they can’t pass it on, they’re screwed, sure — but if everyone can pass it on, no one’s screwed, and you did them a favor by patronizing them. Your only sins are dishonesty, getting something for nothing and slightly diluting the money supply. And if those are crimes, well, every politician in Washington needs to be locked up.

Of course, if everyone’s a counterfeiter, society can’t function, but society couldn’t function if everyone were a barista either. All of which is to say, your honor, that we believe we should be cleared of all charges, or should at least be punished no harder than the following weirdos from the criminal hall of fame. 

Made a Country’s Worth of Counterfeit, and It Was Technically Legal

When Samuel Upham started selling fake Confederate currency in 1862, he was just making souvenirs, he claimed. He lived in Philadelphia, where you couldn’t even spend Confederate dollars, and if smugglers used his fake dollars to go South and buy cotton, that wasn’t his concern. Plus, at the bottom of every bill was a clear message declaring, “Facsimile Confederate Note — Sold wholesale and retail by S.C. Upham.” 

It wasn’t his responsibility if buyers cut that message off with scissors, and if the result looked just like real Confederate money (which was also usually bought in sheets and had to be separated with scissors), don't blame him. 

via Wiki Commons

In Georgia, you could buy 1/25 of a person with this. 

Upham openly advertised his money-selling business, and Northern authorities considered arresting him but decided against it. He wasn’t counterfeiting their money, after all. And while counterfeiting a foreign country’s money is also a crime, they didn’t recognize the Confederacy as a country. It’s even possible (though not proven) that the Union secretly backed his operation, to flood the South with fake money and topple their economy. 

Jefferson Davis accused the North of that in a speech, calling this “a means of despoiling the country people by fraud of such portions of their property as armed violence may fail to reach.” A Richmond newspaper wrote, “Doubtless the counterfeits in question have been scattered broadcast wherever an execrable Yankee soldier polluted the soil with his cloven foot.” Upham bills couldn’t have had too huge an effect, though. The Confederacy were already overprinting so much money themselves that they didn’t need any help breaking their economy. 

14 Million £1 Pound Coins, Made by One Guy

Making coins isn’t a very efficient form of counterfeiting. Coins aren’t worth very much, they require a lot of raw material compared with notes and making them yourself means a huge amount of labor. That’s why British police were surprised in 2007 when they came upon Marcus Glindon’s operation. He had produced 14 million £1 pound coins over the course of seven years, from his home workshop, after being fired from his job as an engineer.

Some other men had hired him to do the work, providing him with the metal and paying him a fraction of the coins’ face value. While that added up to a fair bit over all those years, Glindon didn’t quite live the life of a millionaire. In other words, it didn’t look like he made all that much money, making all that money. Even a detective on the case spoke out on his behalf. “He is quite a simple man, who was married and has two children,” said the constable. “He was quite happy just to have a job. He was getting paid a wage and doing what he likes doing.” 

via Wiki Commons

He was doing her, every day, for seven years. 

By the way, the £1 coin bears the face of Queen Elizabeth II, and it has only ever born the face of Queen Elizabeth II. Before it was introduced in 1983, there were no pound coins, only a pound note. Now, a year and a half after her death, they haven’t got around to introducing a replacement with King Charles’ face. Charles is on some other coins, but not the £1 so far. This must be because Marcus Glindon now makes all the nation’s £1 coins, and he refuses to update his template. 

Exchanging Fake Money for a Fake Painting

In 2014, two brothers in Spain worked together on a painting, doing it in the style of Francisco de Goya. They called it Portrait of don Antonio María Esquivel, and we’ll include a self-portrait by the real Esquivel below, but you’ll have to imagine that the forgery was a little more Goya-like. The brothers found a buyer who offered $4.3 million for it. Goya paintings can sell for millions at auction, so this might be a reasonable price to pay, if only as an investment. 

Antonio María Esquivel

Antonio María Esquivel

Assuming the work’s real, and why on Earth would it not be?

They received the first installment on the payment. Then they crossed the border from Italy and were caught carrying $1.9 million in Swiss francs. Customs officials noticed that these guys were carrying $1.9 million in fake Swiss francs — those weren't banknotes but photocopies. 

So, two gangs of thieves each tried to fool the other, and both ended up with a big bag of nothing? Not exactly. Because to facilitate the deal, the Spanish brothers paid a “middleman,” who claimed to be acting on behalf of the elusive buyer, supposedly a wealthy sheikh. They paid this middleman $325,000 — in real money, as they were art forgers, not money forgers.

What do you know, we found a case of counterfeiting with real victims. They aren’t victims you’ll feel hugely sorry for, though. 

Emerich Juettner, Fined $1 for Making $1s

The Secret Service spent 10 years hunting down a counterfeiter who was making one-dollar bills. It’s surprising he had the skill to dodge them so long, judging from the bills themselves, which weren’t very good. The paper quality was lousy, and where the bill was supposed to say “Washington, D.C.,” it said “Wahsington, D.C.”

Numismatic Bibliomania Society 

The criminal they sought clearly wasn’t very accomplihsed. 

The man turned out to be Emerich Juettner, who was 72 years old. They only got him because a fire broke out in his apartment, he threw a bunch of his stuff out the window, and some kids who found his bills told their parents about them. Juettner got some jail time, and he also received a fine — of $1. He then sold the rights to his story to Hollywood, which netted him more money than counterfeiting ever had. 

Getting the Actual Mint to Make the Fakes for You

Most of us aren’t quietly printing currency right now because we don’t know how to do it. In 1924, Alves dos Reis in Portugal got around this by using the actual company who printed banknotes for the government. He merely had to forge a contract telling them to do this for him, which was moderately easier than forging money. The contract contained various clauses about the money being diverted somewhere other than the national treasury, but the printer thought this was normal. Governments are always moving money to strange places for shady reasons, right?

Counterfeit 500 escudo note

Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin

“Probably just another secret war in Angola, whatever.” 

Reis and his partners wound up with a ludicrous amount of money, roughly equal to a percentage of the country’s GDP. Laundering all this into a usable form was impossible using normal means, so Reis did the reasonable thing: He created his own bank. He also bought up a bunch of other companies, which did real business. We mentioned earlier how printing money can ruin a country, but a certain level of magical money creation leads to real economic growth, and Reis’ mad scheme measurably benefited the country. 

His downfall came because he was too generous. His bank lent too freely, to borrowers who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for a credit, and this was how investigators realized it couldn’t be a legit bank after all. That, and the small fact that Reis was printing the same serial numbers that had appeared on existing notes, which was bound to attract attention sooner or later. 

At this point, the “measurably benefited the country” part of the scheme ended. The government revealed what had happened and worked at pulling all the fake bills out of circulation. People lost faith in Portugal’s leadership and rioted. Literally rioted — the military staged a coup and set up a dictatorship for the next half a century. 

See, it’s just like we said. Counterfeiting is a victimless crime. Not till you tell people the truth does everyone suffer. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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