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When it comes down to it, money is just a piece of paper we’ve all agreed to value. Rather than chase the limited supply like everyone else, some audacious criminal masterminds have opted to create their own supply. While their stories might be intriguing, it’s the chase and circumstances that eventually led them to their Waterloo that beats even fiction. 

In no particular order, these are the biggest counterfeit money busts in history. 


1. The Frank Bourassa Bust

Date: May 2012, 

Location: Trois-Rivières, Quebec

Amount recovered: $200 Million

Key perpetrator(s): Frank Bourassa

Call him the “Best Counterfeiter in the world” if you like, but Frank Bourassa printed $250 million faux US dollars, got nabbed, yet managed to serve only six weeks in jail. The RCMP, who knew how to spot and avoid fake US money, described his notes as “virtually undetectable to the naked eye.”

His story will leave your mouth gaping in astonishment, but this piece is about his bust instead. You can read the full details or check out a Frank Bourassa documentary. 

When RCMP officers busted his girlfriend’s home, they discovered approximately one million US dollars worth of one of the best fake money ever produced. So, how did Frank wriggle out of this situation? 

The Police must have clear evidence for a search warrant under Canadian law. They didn’t! So Frank’s attorney argued that the search was illegal, forcing The Crown (Canada’s prosecutorial body) to offer a deal that saw him serve six weeks in Jail before walking on a $10,000 bond. A year later, the Crown offered a Final deal that’ll see him serve three years in prison. Yet, against his attorney’s advice, Frank refused, taking the case to trial. 

As he walked into the courtroom, Frank subtly mentioned to his attorney: “What if I could give them $200 million? Do you think that’ll help my case?” 

Apparently, Frank had $200 million fake US dollars stashed away the whole time. And, he was willing to give it up on the grounds that his jail term be reduced to the six weeks he’d already served and that the Crown would not seize his girlfriend’s home. 

And just like that, Frank Bourassa walked! 

2. Operation Sunset

Date: November 2016.

Location: Lima, Peru. 

Amount recovered: $30 million

Key perpetrators: 47 Peruvians and 3 Ecuadorians

Over the years, Peru might have set the bar remarkably high as the highest producer and distributor of counterfeit US money. But hold your hats because Operation Sunset surpassed the audacity of some of the grandest money counterfeiting enterprises in history. 

Picture this: a whopping 30 million in counterfeit US dollars and fifty thousand fake euros were seized following the investigation of six Peruvian-based criminal outfits by the United States Secrets Service and 1,500 Peruvian police officers in November 2016. 

Operation Sunset was a carefully orchestrated raid, quite alright. However, the criminal enterprises responsible for the manufacture of these counterfeit notes were also no joke. Boasting 1600 printing plates, six counterfeit plants, some of the best money-counting machines, and eight manufacturing presses — all of which were seized — taking them down, as you might expect, was no stroll in the law enforcement park. 

To pull it off, the Secret Service and the Peruvian police had to get 54 search warrants. Finally, the joint force ended the symphony of justice with a crescendo — the arrest of 50 individuals comprising 47 Peruvians and 3 Ecuadorians. 

3. Case 880 

Date: January 1948.

Location: New York's Upper West Side. 

Amount Recovered: $7,000

Key Perpetrator(s): Emmerich Juettner

Emmerich Jeuttner — a 73-year-old junk collector — produced one of the ugliest $1 bills ever seen. Yet, case 880 — the operation aimed at finding him —went down as the most expensive and extensive counterfeit money bust in America’s history. “Mister 880”, as the secrets service referred to him, eluded arrest for a decade!

While Juettner wasn’t the best money counterfeiter, he was quite the escapologist. His trick was simple: he never passes more than $15 per week, never reuses spots, and carefully selects his locations.

Despite his meticulousness, a chanced chain of events eventually led to his capture. On January 14, 1948, a group of nine boys in search of some treasure in the trash stumbled on zinc engraving plates for printing money and some funny-looking half-burnt $1 bills. They informed their dad, who rightfully informed the police. 

So, when the secrets service trailed Emmerich to his daughter’s at Brownstone, they met a friendly old man who admitted to forging the bills. 

His defense? 

“They were only $1 bills. I never gave more than one to any one person, so nobody ever lost more than $1.”

He was arrested and arraigned before Judge John W. Clancy, who was lenient in his ruling due to his lack of greed. Juettner was given a short prison sentence of one year and a day and a $1 fine. 

4. Operation Mermaid

Date: August 1948.

Location: Isle of Wight, North London, United Kingdom. 

Amount Recovered: $50 Million plus

Key Perpetrator(s): The Lavender Hill Mob

In the early 90s, Stephen Jory and Kenneth Mainstone teamed up with Bernard Farrier and Anthony Wilkie to form a gang with one of the coolest names — The Lavender Hill Mob. They swamped the UK economy with over £50 million. Their take-down — Operation Mermaid — is the most successful in UK history. 

Operation Mermaid found a breakthrough on August 14, 1998, when the police discovered Farrier’s name and raided his Isle of Wight home at Cowes. They found counterfeit money, a printing press, and about 1.5 million pounds worth of uncut false £50 and £20 notes. In addition, they found Stephen Jory’s pager number and Kenneth Mainstone’s advertisement cover.

It was a rabbit hole, and they were going to smoke out every last one of them. A new cache of evidence comprising a sophisticated four-color Heidelberg printing press was found at Kenneth’s home. Stephen Jory was arrested in North London, where he was found handing fake money to Watmough, who was also found to be in possession of about 750,000 fake pounds.

In the end, they were all prosecuted and found guilty of different offenses connected to the counterfeiting operation. 

5. William Brockway’s Arrest

Date: August 1895.

Location: Rockaway Beach, Queens, United States. 

Amount Recovered: $600,000 plus counterfeit notes

Key Perpetrator(s): William Brockway

With a 50-year career, William Brockway was arguably the best counterfeit money maker of the 19th century. Though in the twilight of his life, after living most of it as a wealthy man, his arrest is a testament that time is no match for justice’s unerring pursuit. 

Together with Charles H. Smith, who served as the engraver, Brockway pioneered the counterfeit coupon bond in the 1850s. When they got arrested in 1880, over 244 bonds of $1000 were found in their possession. As the mastermind of the whole operation, William was convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment following Smith’s cooperation with the authorities. 

After this stint, he was later involved in another counterfeiting syndicate comprising William E. Wagner and Abbie L. Smith in his seventies. This time, he was arrested in Rockaway Beach with about $600,000 in counterfeit notes. This got him a 10-year sentence before he was released in 1904 on account of good behavior. 

Today, the war between those who forge money and those who work tirelessly to preserve the sanctity of money is still ongoing. But one thing is clear: these busts have made their mark, forever immortalizing the names of the forgers and the counterfeit detectives.

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