An Army National Guard member was among five Lodi residents arrested Thursday in connection with a counterfeit ring that passed nearly $500,000 in fake bills.
The fraudulent $100 bills have been found in Iraq, where suspect Joseph DeAnda was deployed, as well as Lodi, Jackson, Mexico and several states, Lodi Police Detective Eric Bradley said. Investigators suspect much of the fake money was moved through casinos for real cash.
All five suspects had been arrested last summer, but the case was delayed once investigators realized how much money was involved and the Secret Service decided to take over. Bradley said an agent told him that "it's probably one of the largest counterfeit operations that the Valley has seen in a long time."
Federal prosecutors took the case to a grand jury, which handed down indictments on Feb. 5. Lodi police and the Secret Service arrested four of the five suspects Thursday; the fifth suspect is already in state prison on unrelated matters.
Arrested were DeAnda, 46; his wife, Tami Kishi DeAnda, 41; Shelie Louise Radotic, 30; and Holly Armada Haworth, 29.
They were arraigned Thursday in federal court and all are being held without bail in the Sacramento County Jail.
The fifth suspect, Clinton Earl Irons, 32, has previous forgery and drug-related cases.
Another woman who had been arrested in July was not indicted in the current case. She previously told the News-Sentinel that she tore up a counterfeit $100 bill once she learned it was fake.
The five current suspects are all charged with conspiracy, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the indictment filed in U.S. Eastern District Court. They also face other charges ranging from counterfeiting to passing fake bills, charges that can carry up to 20 years in prison.
Most of the money was made by turning $5 bills into $100 bills, police said.
The indictment alleges that the counterfeiting began Jan. 7, 2004, and continued through July 15, 2008, the day of the initial arrests.
The case came to light in early July, when a man tried to pass a fake $100 bill at Lowe's in Lodi, Detective Sgt. Tod Patterson said in July. The transaction was captured on surveillance video, and police recognized the suspect as Irons, whom they knew was wanted on warrants.
That led to a search warrant at a Scottsdale Road home, where police found fake bills, along with computers containing counterfeiting software, Patterson said at the time.
Detective Nick Sareeram continued investigating, and the total of fake bills began to add up.
Bills were found in Jackson, and police suspect some of the money was being moved through the casino there, Bradley said. He noted that most of the suspects didn't have jobs, but that they had gambling cards in their possession.
Once the Secret Service got involved, agents looked beyond state lines, and found bills in other states and Mexico, Bradley said.
Joseph DeAnda, a nine-year military veteran, returned from Iraq in June with the rank of specialist, so agents looked overseas - where they found several fake bills, Bradley said.
The final total of fraudulent money is not known. Bradley noted that fake bills sometimes make it past store clerks and even bank tellers, until unsuspecting customers learn they are holding worthless pieces of paper.