3 accused of turning real bills into fakes

Real money comes on custom-blended cotton paper that defies duplication. Most fake money feels wrong. It doesn't crumple right. Even if it does, many retailers have chemical pens that stain wood-based counterfeits and leave real money unscathed.

But what if a counterfeiter solved the problem by erasing the markings from a real $5 bill and turning it into a fake $100?

That's what authorities said three Port Richey residents were doing before they went to jail Monday in what may be the county's first arrests involving real money converted to counterfeit.

The case rests on a sting operation by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Secret Service. Some time ago, sheriff's Sgt. Bill Moltzan said, investigators discovered the trio offering money for 50 real cents on the fake dollar.

An undercover detective arranged to buy some of the evidence, but Moltzan said the counterfeiters had a better offer: For an undisclosed fee, they would teach the detective how to make it.

The detective rented a room at the Comfort Inn on U.S. 19. It became the counterfeiting classroom, according to arrest affidavits. They used undisclosed chemicals to wash almost all traces of the markings off $5 bills and a commercial color copier to create fresh $100s. They did this 22 times, according to the affidavits, and they were caught on video.

Charles Ruffini, 39, Joseph Irizarry, 29, and Nanci Waples, 50, each faced 22 counts of forging bank bills. Each of them has at least three prior arrests, and each was held Tuesday in lieu of bail that exceeded $110,000.

As much as $5,000 worth of their bills may have circulated through the county, Moltzan said. One sign that they are fake: The hologram embedded in the paper is not Benjamin Franklin, who is on the $100 bill.

It was Abraham Lincoln, of the $5 bill.

Even though this counterfeiting cell is crippled, Moltzan said, others with similar skills may still be at large.

He thinks the detective was not the first local student to learn the trio's advanced counterfeiting techniques.