HANFORD — Four people are in custody this week after Hanford police uncovered an apparent counterfeiting operation.
Hanford police Detective Ryan Tomey said police are aware of several counterfeit $50 bills, $100 bills and bogus checks that have been passed at several local businesses. Police will be comparing evidence from this case with other reports of counterfeit bills in Kings County and surrounding areas.
“We may get some closure on other cases,” Tomey said.
Tomey said police have tied the counterfeiting operation to fake bills and checks passed over the past few weeks at Dollar Tree, Hobby Lobby, Ulta Beauty, O’Reilly Auto Parts and Pep Boys.
Around 3:18 p.m. Tuesday, police responded to the Dollar Tree at 1818 W. Lacey Blvd. for a report of a woman trying to pass a counterfeit $100 bill. The woman reportedly left in a gray vehicle. Officers stopped the vehicle and detained the driver, Stephanie Gonzales, 36, and three passengers, identified as Tatiana Gomez, 32, Sonni Cameron, 36, and Obed Ramirez, 35.
Officers searched the vehicle and located counterfeit California driver’s licenses, counterfeit $100 bills, a stolen checkbook, methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
Investigators served a search warrant Wednesday at Ramirez’s home, where they found about a dozen “washed” $1 bills, along with inks, paints, dyes and acetones commonly used to produce counterfeit bills. Police said the search also recovered items used for printing, drying and straightening freshly-inked bills.
Tomey said washed bills are typically lower denominations, such as $1, $5 or $20 notes, that have been soaked in a solution that removes the ink without damaging the paper. The suspects arrested this week, he said, appeared to have been using $1 bills.
“They’ve washed them until you can barely see a faint image of a $1 bill,” Tomey said.
Criminals then print larger bills on the paper using complex printing methods, before applying various details and textures to the paper with ink, paint and other materials.
Police said the search at Ramirez’s home also recovered two checkbooks belonging to victims of previous vehicle burglaries, several pieces of mail not belonging to Ramirez and other forms of identification.
The suspects were arrested and booked into the Kings County Jail on suspicion of the following charges:
- Tatiana Gomez – burglary, criminal conspiracy, possession of counterfeit bills, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. Bail $60,000.
- Sonni Morgann Cameron, 35. Suspicion of second-degree burglary, criminal conspiracy and possession of counterfeit bills. Bail $100,000.
- Stephanie Gonzales – Suspicion of burglary, criminal conspiracy, giving false ID to a peace officer, possession of counterfeit bills and false impersonation. Bail $100,000.
- Obed Daniel Ramirez, 35. Suspicion of second-degree burglary, criminal conspiracy, possession of counterfeit bills, possession of counterfeiting equipment, identity theft, possession of stolen property and possession of controlled substances. Bail $300,000.
Tomey said police have contacted the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. Secret Service, which investigate cases involving counterfeit currency. He said the police department will recommend pursuing federal counterfeiting charges.
Police in Hanford and Lemoore have fielded numerous reports of counterfeit currency over the past year.
In September 2016, the Lemoore Police Department received four reports regarding counterfeit $100 bills being passed at local businesses. Police said the fake bills appeared to have been printed on genuine currency paper that had been “washed” and reprinted to look like $100 bills.
Lemoore police Cmdr. Steve Rossi said he’s not aware of any additional reports of counterfeit currency since September.
Back in March 2016, Hanford police investigated a fake $100 bill that was passed at the A&W restaurant in the Hanford Mall food court. Although surveillance video showed a woman during the transaction, police have not made any arrests in the case.
HPD arrested two people in October 2016 for allegedly attempting to pass fake $100 bills at several stores in the mall. The suspects, identified as Fresno residents Danielle Packer and Michael Crocker, reportedly had additional counterfeit bills in their car.