Nicknamed “the Robin Hood of the Alps,” Joseph-Samuel Farinet’s life story, including his legendary counterfeiting, has become embellished over the years. In 1869, he had fled from Italy, where he was wanted for counterfeiting, to the Valais in southern Switzerland. It didn’t take long before he was back to his old tricks, as he quickly began minting counterfeit 20-centime coins. He gave these to poor locals, earning him his “Robin Hood” title, and in return, they helped him to hide from the authorities.
Eleven years later, the Swiss police finally caught up with him in a medieval village called Saillon, where he mysteriously died. Today, the village pays homage to his memory in the Museum of Counterfeit Money, which houses a court judgement convicting Farinet in absentia. The Valais region has also named its complementary currency, which can be used in local businesses, after the counterfeiter.
Emerich Juettner’s counterfeiting was never high-value or high-profile, which might explain why he got away with it for so long. He was born in Austria in 1876, but moved to New York when he was a teenager, where he later met his wife and had two children of his own. To support his family, he worked as a building maintenance man, but when his wife died in 1937, he found himself short of cash. So, he began to make counterfeited $1 bills in his home and using between 10 and 12 per week in various shops across Manhattan.
Juettner used the counterfeited currency for ten years, but was always careful about it – he never used the fake bills in the same shop twice. The US Secret Service became aware of his operation in the late 1930s, and opened an investigation named Case 880. Due to Juettner’s sparing use of the counterfeit bills, it took the Secret Service ten years to crack the case. They finally caught Juettner in 1948 when he threw his counterfeiting materials out into the street after a fire in his apartment. He was sentenced to four months in prison and given an apt $1 fine.
Frank William Abagnale Jr’s story is particularly well known thanks to its reimagining in popular culture. In fact, his days as a counterfeiter were immortalised by Hollywood in the 2002 film Catch Me if You Can, in which Abagnale is portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. Abagnale was a master impersonator as well as a counterfeiter, and initially became embroiled in criminality when he was 16, when he pretended to be a pilot for PanAm Airlines in order to obtain free flights. Over the next five years, during which time he also masqueraded as a doctor and a lawyer, among other things, he became a master forger of cheques.
It is not known exactly how much Abagnale defrauded from banks through counterfeiting cheques. He was first arrested in France, where he spent six months in jail, before being deported to Sweden, where he went on trial for swindling and fraud. The judge sentenced him to six months in prison, after which he was extradited to the US to stand trial for forgery. He was sentenced to 12 years, but was released after five after striking a deal with the FBI to help them identify other cheque forgers. He now works as a security consultant.
Wesley Weber was just 13 years old when he made his first counterfeit bill. The Canadian national began producing fake CA $100 ($74 USD/£57) notes for his friends in his late teens, which were of such high quality that even the Bank of Canada admitted they were excellent. Over the next couple of years, Weber and his accomplices flooded the market with so many of the fake CA $100 ($74 USD/£57) bills that many Canadian businesses stopped accepting them, and the Bank of Canada was later forced to change their design to improve security.
Weber has been convicted on a number of occasions for counterfeit operations. He was first jailed for forgery in 1997, but was released after three months; he found himself back there in 2001, this time for counterfeiting, a charge for which he was sentenced to 13 months. Following two parole violations, Weber was released from prison in 2006 and found a new career as a day trader. However, he has since been charged with trading without proper registration and trading while prohibited.
Thomas McAnea became so skilled at reproducing the security hologram on banknotes that he earned himself the nickname of “Hologram Tam.” Born in Glasgow in the 1950s, he began his career as a print union official, before starting up his own printing business. Following the death of his two sons, however, he began drinking heavily, and running up huge debts that threatened to bankrupt the business. In a bid to make ends meet, he offered his extensive printing knowledge to organised crime gangs in Glasgow, helping them to produce counterfeit bills.
McAnea’s first brush with the law came in 1996, when police raided the premises where he was producing Scottish pound and Danish kroner notes. Following a two-month trial, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, for a plot that the judge said posed a “threat to the economic well-being of Denmark.” However, he was released on appeal after a typo was found in the police’s search documents. McAnea was convicted once more in 2007 for distributing counterfeit Bank of Scotland and Euro notes and sentenced to six years and four months in jail.
When Rudy Kurniawan was in his early twenties, his nascent interest in wine meant he spent weekends at auctions, rubbing shoulders with elite figures of the world of viticulture as they splashed out thousands of dollars on a single bottle. He quickly developed a taste for Burgundy, building a cellar worth millions from which he exclusively sold bottles to wealthy collectors. Except what was in the bottles wasn’t what the buyers thought – rather, it was a blend of cheap wines that had been mixed by Kurniawan to produce a counterfeit version of the real thing.
In 2012, the FBI raided Kurniawan after the alarm was raised by several of his buyers. Agents found old corks, recipes for faking wine, and counterfeit labels that he would affix to cheap bottles. He was charged with fraud and in 2013, became the first person ever to be convicted for counterfeiting wine. Kurniawan is currently serving a ten-year sentence in the Taft Correctional Institution in California; after his release, he will be deported to Indonesia, as he was found to be living illegally in the US during his trial.
Between 1989 and 2006, Shaun Greenhalgh (pictured left) and his family were what Scotland Yard called “possibly the most diverse forgery team in the world, ever”. While his elderly parents (his father, on the right) approached clients to convince them to buy faked copies of some of the world’s most famous pieces of art, and his brother managed the money, Greenhalgh was the artistic talent behind the operation, producing thousands of counterfeit paintings. Notably, in 1999, he produced a copy of an ancient Egyptian statue called the Amarna Princess, which was sold to the Bolton Museum for £439,767 ($579,300).
Greenhalgh was caught out in 2005, when a painting sent to Bonhams auction house was spotted as fake. Following a surveillance operation by the UK's Scotland Yard, the family were arrested in 2007, and Greenhalgh was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison. His story has since gained notoriety, and was dramatised by the BBC in 2009 in a TV show entitled The Antiques Rogue Show.
While Anastasios Arnaouti was certainly an expert in counterfeiting, subtlety wasn’t exactly his strong suit. Born in 1967, he was known to police as a minor crook, having spent time in jail for various misdemeanours. The UK’s National Crime Squad began investigating Arnaouti and his compatriots in 2002, after their attention was piqued by the fact that Arnaouti drove a £70,000 ($92,200) Mercedes but claimed to be unemployed. In hunting for the source of his cash, they uncovered a mass counterfeiting operation.
At the time of their arrest, Arnaouti and his gang were using equipment that was capable of producing £1 million ($1.3m) of fake bills per day. Police seized £2.5 million ($3.3m) of counterfeit £10 ($13) notes and $3.5m (£2.7m) of counterfeit $100 (£75) notes, but the full scale of the operation is thought to be much greater. Police also found $6.5m (£4.9m) in fake notes in circulation. In 2005, Arnaouti was sentenced to eight years in jail for conspiring to make counterfeit currency and handle stolen goods.
Albert Talton grew to be one of America’s most well known counterfeiting criminals, but when he began his operation, he didn’t even own a computer. Born and raised in Southern California, he was a career criminal in his youth, and was in and out of prison for various crimes including bank fraud. In the early 2000s, he began producing fake currency, at first using an HP all-in-one printer. He quickly found that counterfeit-detection pens were able to detect fake currency printed on normal paper, but did not work on tissue and newsprint paper. So, he began using the latter to produce counterfeit notes.
Over the course of several years, Talton produced around $7 million (£5.3m) of counterfeit $100 (£75) bills. These began to appear in circulation and piqued the interest of the US Secret Service in 2005, which began to investigate their source. It wasn’t too difficult for them to track down Talton as he had done little to protect his own identity, even using his fake dollars in local retail stores. He was arrested in 2008 and pleaded guilty to charged of conspiracy and manufacturing counterfeit notes. He was later sentenced to nine years in prison.
Chicago native Art Williams Jr was first taught how to make counterfeit cash by his mother’s partner, a local criminal nicknamed "Da Vinci", when he was a teenager. As he grew older, Williams began to build on his counterfeiting production methods, using special inks and Photoshop to perfect the green background colour of real notes. His operation stayed fairly small-time until 1992, when the US mint announced it would be producing a new, ultra-secure $100 (£75) bill. When his girlfriend at the time joked that he couldn’t crack the security measures, Williams made the new note the target of his counterfeiting operation.
In the late 1990s, Williams and his girlfriend made around $10 million (£7.6m) worth of counterfeit bills – they had to travel around the country to spend it or risk being caught. In 2001, his operation came close to crashing down when he was found in a hotel room with $60,000 (£45,000) of counterfeit bills, but he walked away unscathed as the judge ruled that the search had been unwarranted. Later that year, however, carelessness by his family members in spending the bills allowed the police to track him down. Williams spent 31 months in jail for his crimes.
Hans-Jurgen Kuhl’s counterfeiting operation was initially sparked by artistic, not criminal, interests. In the 1980s, he began working as a reprographic photographer and graphic designer in Cologne, and became highly skilled at creating imitations of the works of artists such as Andy Warhol. It was lucrative while it lasted, but Kuhl sought long-term financial security, a quest that brought him to Cologne’s criminal Cento gang. In the late 1990s, he became involved in a deal that would see the gang receive $100,000 (£76k) in exchange for printing $5 million (£3.8m) in fake bills, which he duly did.
The deal turned out to be a sting by the German police, and Kuhl was arrested in 1999. However, he was released early on probation and found himself back in the counterfeiting business once again, producing fake currency for members of the Albanian mafia. His operation was caught by a police sting in 2007, during which $16.5 million (£12.5m) in counterfeit bills was seized. Given that he was 65 years old at the time, the state gave him a relatively lenient six-year sentence, which was reduced to four for good behaviour.
According to The Independent newspaper, Stephen Jory was Britain’s most prolific counterfeiter, having produced more than £50 million ($65m) of counterfeit notes in his lifetime. Born in Hackney, London, in 1949, Jory became what police would call an “old school” villain in his youth, becoming embroiled in all sorts of criminal conspiracies. Notably, he landed himself in jail in 1985 for making an estimated five million fake copies of prestigious perfumes such as Chanel No 5. Upon his release, Jory turned his hand to counterfeit bills, setting up an undercover mint in a garage in Essex.
When police caught Jory and his accomplices, nicknamed the "Lavender Hill Mob", in 1998, he admitted to a charge of having produced £50 million ($65m) of fake £20 ($26) notes, although the real figure is probably much greater. The gang had become so good at creating the counterfeit currency that it could not be detected by UV technology, and the Bank of England had to change the design of the £20 note as a result. Jory was sentenced to eight years in prison, during which time he wrote a memoir, Funny Money, about his counterfeit dealings.
Despite being the most prolific counterfeiter in American history, Frank Bourassa was handed a comparatively minor prison sentence for his crimes. The Canadian national was a petty criminal in his teens, stealing clothes from shopping centres, selling stolen cars and even dabbling in the marijuana trade. After a brief jail stint for the latter, he decided to start making counterfeit American currency in a get-rich-quick bid. He spent five months printing up $250 million (£191m) in fake bills, and began selling them to various criminal groups.
Bourassa’s operation was discovered in 2012, when he began looking for new buyers – one of the groups he reached out to had been infiltrated by the Canadian police, who had been working in partnership with the US Secret Service. Bourassa was set to be extradited to the US to stand trial, but he managed to strike a deal with the Canadian authorities. In exchange for telling them where to find the $200 million ($151m) in fakes that had not yet been discovered, he received a $1,350 ($1000) fine and spent six weeks in jail.
Alves dos Reis’ counterfeiting operation was so extensive that he almost brought down Portugal’s entire currency. The Portugese national conceived his plot in 1924, when he was in jail serving time for embezzling money from an ailing US car vendor. First of all, he forged a contract in the name of the country’s national bank, Banco de Portugal, which authorised him to print banknotes. He then used this to convince a British currency engraver, Waterlow and Sons Limited, to print 200,000 banknotes of 500 Portugese escudos, which amounted to about 0.88% of Portugal’s GDP at the time.
Reis laundered the fake bills into gold-backed currencies and smaller denominations Portugese currency using a shell bank. He spent so wildly, in fact, that his investments actually caused a boom in the Portugese economy. Reis’ fraud was eventually outed by the O Século newspaper in December 1925, following an investigation by a Banco de Portugal inspector of several mass deposits of fake notes. He was arrested later that month, but was not tried until 1930 because of a conspiracy theory that Banco de Portugal officials and the government were secretly behind the plot. Reis was eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison.