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County Drops Student Counterfeit Case


CERRITOS — County prosecutors have decided to drop counterfeiting charges against an 18-year-old Gahr High School student who allegedly attempted to pass fake bills in the school lunch line.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Greta Walker said because counterfeiting is a federal crime, the case against senior Francisco Martinez would have to be handled in federal court.

"We were unable to find any state code that covered his actions," Walker said. "There is a federal law that covers them."

However, federal authorities said it is unlikely they will pursue the case.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Martinez on March 11 and charged him with possession of counterfeit $20 bills. Other students interviewed told investigators that Martinez sold them bogus bills for $5 each. A cafeteria worker noticed 13 of the counterfeits in a cafeteria register and contacted authorities. She did not remember, however, which students had passed the bills.

ABC Unified School District officials estimate the counterfeits may have cost the district as much as $1,000.

Investigators from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Secret Service interviewed eight students suspected of passing the bills. The Secret Service is the federal agency with jurisdiction in counterfeiting cases.

Only Martinez faces possible prosecution in federal court. The other students were juveniles at the time of the alleged crimes and the Secret Service does not pursue charges against juveniles involved in counterfeiting, said David Cahill, a Secret Service administrator.

Cahill said that because investigators found only two bills in Martinez's possession, the federal government is not likely to prosecute him.

The students apparently did not make the bills, authorities said. Martinez said someone gave him the notes and that he thought they were real, said Sheriff's Detective Linda Schermerhorn.

Investigators said the teen-agers probably did not realize the penalties for passing counterfeit money.

After their own review, school administrators suspended six students for the remainder of the semester. All were allowed to resume their studies on strict probation. Three students have returned to Gahr High in Cerritos.

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