After visiting the El Centro library on the site of the old Sears building (stop by, it’s spacious, has Wifi, and smells good), I went for lunch. Just speed up Adams to “Tia Rosa’s” (the restaurant name has been disguised) to get one of their famous pan birote, very fresh tortas, sin carne. Velveeta and jalapeno only, please. Also got a non-sweetened iced tea filled with Mexican limes and some empanadas for later. As I was waiting for all of this perfection to come together, Tia Rosa came out from the back and began washing a $5 bill in the sink used by the counter workers. The employees are scrupulous about washing their hands before moving to the sandwich board. I figured the $5 bill just had some extra mayo on it. The $5 bill got a good soapy scrubbing while Tia would pause, hold it up, and look at it again. After a rinse she dried it in a paper towel.
I was about to come up with a lame joke about “Tia Rosa’s” laundering money. Glad I didn’t. Tia held up the bill one last time and it started falling apart. Eventually she even appeared to pull the bill apart front from back. It was a counterfeit and a cheap one at that. It wasn’t any sturdier than Monopoly money.
The woman waiting on me remarked, “They will come back and try to pass another.” This is the problem and why I urged them to give the evidence to a bank whose manager might alert the Secret Service to funny money in Imperial Valley. I’ve read of counterfeits coming across the border from Mexicali but have never seen one in action.
“Tia Rosa’s” attracts a mixed bag of clients, mostly family people who wait in a crowded line from the cash register to the door. The layout is a little tight, and I’ve overheard conversations about probation officers who are not called nice things by people who I’m glad are not my neighbors. But mostly nice people come there for great baked goods, fresh tortas, and the best iced tea in Southern California. Yet, someone who came in is not so nice and has a pocket of phony “fins” as fives were known as in New York during the “Guys and Dolls” era.
According to an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the U.S. Secret Service, the feds who go after counterfeiters, has picked up more than $100,000 in counterfeit bills in New Mexico so far in 2013. The reason, good-quality printers and desktop publishing, won’t surprise anyone who has been to a Staples or Costco lately. Unfortunately, someone even dropped a phony $5 in a church collection tray. Is nothing sacred these days? You won’t get to heaven for putting a fake fiver in the collection tray, but the thought was in the right direction.
The U.S. Secret Service warns store owners to examine cash especially when some guy wants to buy a pack of smokes with a $100 bill. Even getting burned by a bogus fiver has to hurt in our economy.
One answer comes from accubanker.com, which offers counterfeit money detectors using ultraviolet and watermark detection systems. Of course the line doesn’t move very fast if every bill over $5 is checked.
Anybody have change of $5?
Rich Ryan is an El Centro resident.