Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Police sting nets alleged counterfeiters

Hailey bust part of a larger phony money scheme

Police staked out a Hertz Dodge rental van on Aviation Drive in south Hailey last week, waiting for someone to pick up the counterfeit money the cops knew was hidden inside.

Sure enough, two people showed up and grabbed the money, only to be grabbed by police a few minutes later.

Arrested were Cesar Amaya-Mendez, 31, and Sandra Cubillos-Bernal, 34. Both have been charged in Blaine County Magistrate Court with "forging or counterfeiting a public seal," which is the official title for the counterfeiting crime in Idaho.

Both suspects listed California residences. Both are still in the Blaine County Jail, Amaya-Mendez on $100,000 bond and Cubillos-Bernal on $30,000 bond. Police allege that Amaya-Mendez is an illegal immigrant, from either Mexico or Colombia.

The bust took place on March 5. The Blaine County Sheriff's Office reported that more than $9,000 in counterfeit cash was seized in phony $100 bills.

"I don't know a lot about counterfeit money, but it looked pretty real," said Blaine County Sheriff's Detective Steve Harkins.

The Hailey bust was made possible by an earlier counterfeit bust in Twin Falls and involved the same van, Harkins said. The sheriff's office, with the assistance of the U.S. Secret Service, became suspicious that more money might be hidden inside and the van was searched after police learned that it had been brought to Hertz in Hailey.

A careful search found the money hidden in the headliners, Harkins said, and investigators had reason to believe that someone would come to get it.

"This was a large scheme of counterfeit money that was being distributed across southern Idaho," Harkins said.

"Locally, we're not expecting to make any more arrests," he said. "We have no reason to believe there were any of the bills passed in Blaine County."

Terry Smith:

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