British Columbia

Booze, bongs and batteries: 5 accused in counterfeit spending spree

A group of five people facing dozens of counts related to the use of bogus cash around the Lower Mainland in the past two years allegedly spent their funny money on pizza, booze and gambling — among other vices.

Despite dozens of charges, police say introduction of polymer bills has reduced counterfeiting crimes

Five people are facing 34 counts of using counterfeit money at locations around the Lower Mainland. Four of them are also accused of making the bogus cash. (Britainy Robinson/CBC)

No one's accusing them of being the classiest counterfeiters in town.

A group of five people facing dozens of counts related to the use of bogus cash around the Lower Mainland in the past two years allegedly spent their funny money on pizza, booze and gambling — among other vices.

One of the charges involves a purchase at a bong shop. Yet another allegedly happened at a pet store. And that's to say nothing of money allegedly spent on greeting cards and pretzels.

"They would go to various businesses, whether it be a restaurant, a corner store, a liquor store or a drug store. They would make a purchase and then they would receive [real] cash" as change, said Vancouver police Const. Jason Doucette.

"And sometimes this has a ripple effect, because either the merchant doesn't realize that they've accepted a counterfeit $50, and they use that to give somebody change in a future transaction and now the money is moving around. Or they notice at the end of the day, when it's too late."

'It kept getting stuck'

Vancouver police were among several departments involved in investigations that have led to 34 charges against the five individuals accused of using counterfeit money in Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby and New Westminster.

Aleena Marie Birgen, Michael Ho Shen, Paul Hochi Shen, Saro Mouses Vanayan and Farrokh Samadi are accused of using counterfeit money on various dates from 2016 to 2018.

Birgen, Vanayan and both Shens are also charged with making or beginning to make counterfeit money, as well as possessing a device "adapted and intended for use in making counterfeit."

In addition to money spent at a series of gas stations and liquor stores, the accused also allegedly used counterfeit at both the River Rock and Edgewater casinos. 

Battery World owner Richard Granholm says he still remembers the day one of the accused allegedly bought an electric bike battery in his store in March 2017.

Battery World owner Richard Granholm posted this picture of one of the people who allegedly used counterfeit money in his store. The CBC has blurred the image. (Richard Granholm)

"They actually gave me the money. I believe there were four $100 bills," he said. "The sale was about $320, so I gave them back about $80."

Granholm says he didn't realize what had happened until it came time to take the money to the bank.

"When they were ringing it through in their money counter, it kept getting stuck," he said.

The teller called her manager over: "And her manager knew what it was right away."

'It was very beautifully done'

Police are reluctant to go into elaborate detail about the way the money was made for fear of that would effectively give would-be counterfeiters a tutorial.

Doucette says the bogus cash was created by scraping together copies with pieces cut out of lower denomination bills. Granholm says the bill he got was a reasonable facsimile of a polymer $100.

"You could see it if you looked carefully," he said. "It was very beautifully done."

RCMP E-Division counterfeit currency co-ordinator Vinh Ngo says that despite the latest raft of charges, instances of counterfeiting have dropped since the introduction of the polymer bill in 2011.

He says about 11 out of every million bills in circulation are believed to be fake. By comparison, that number was 450 parts per million in 2004.

"We want [the public] to be aware. We don't want them to be alarmed. We want them to have confidence with our financial integrity," he said.

"The rates are low, but everyone should still check their money and do their due diligence. It doesn't matter how high tech the currency is … if the public doesn't check it."

The Bank of Canada's website features information on the security features of the various series of bills currently in circulation.

None of the charges against any of the accused have been proven in court.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.

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