California Couple Arrested in Utah for Forgery after Creating and using Counterfeit Bills

A California couple was arrested for forgery in southern Utah after police discovered the duo had been washing and reprinting money to create counterfeit bills.

Fraudulent spending

Photo by: Travis Goodspeed

46 year old Dean Anthony Fagas and 38 year old Crista Jeanette Avila, both of southern California were arrested after a grocery store located in St. George, Utah reported a woman to have been trying to use what appeared to be counterfeit money. Police located the woman nearby and found her to be in possession of multiple hundred dollar bills that were not what they seemed.

Clean cash

After inspecting the bills officers determined them to be counterfeit and upon investigating further, found that other fake bills had been used at various stores throughout the St. George area. The woman, Crista Jeanette Avila, told officers that her boyfriend who was waiting for her at a motel would wash one dollar bills then reprint them as hundred dollar bills. Then Avila would use the fake bills at stores, returning to the hotel with the real monies she received as change. Officers went to the hotel where they found Dean Anthony Fagas and the equipment used to make the counterfeit bills. Although Fagas originally denied his involvement in the fraud scheme, he eventually said he was aware of what was going on but put the blame solely on Avila. Avila and Fagas were both arrested for fraud as well as forgery.

Forgery

Utah Code 76-6-501 states, “a person is guilty of forgery if, with purpose to defraud anyone, or with knowledge that the person is facilitating a fraud to be perpetrated by anyone, the person:

(a) Alters any writing of another without his authority or utters the altered writing; or
(b) Makes, completes, executes, authenticates, issues, transfers, publishes, or utters any writing so that the writing or the making, completion, execution, authentication, issuance, transference, publication, or utterance. . .”
That section also defines “writing” to include “printing, electronic storage or transmission, or any other method or recording valuable information including forms such as:
(i) Checks, tokens, stamps, seals, credit cards, badges, trademarks, money, and any other symbols of value, right, privilege, or identification. . . “

Monetary forgery is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. Since currency is issued by the United States, counterfeiting currency can often end in federal charges as well. U.S. Code 18 USC 470 punishes counterfeiting currency with a fine and/or imprisonment of not more than 20 years.

Check for fake cash

Photo by: Neubie

While those who create counterfeit money can face criminal charges for their actions, so can those who end up with the fake cash when they unknowingly spend the fraudulent bills. Since most counterfeit money is found in higher valued bills, anyone using 20, 50 or 100 dollar bills are encouraged to be aware of any abnormalities in the print and feel of the monies. They should also look for identifying watermarks as well as any embedded thread or security strip. While looking for any watermark or thread can be done quickly by holding a bill up to the light, it is important to note that scammers will often use actual low value currency to create higher value counterfeit bills. Checking a bill in the light for ANY watermark or thread is not enough to avoid fraudulent bills since a five dollar bill could be bleached and reprinted as a 100 dollar bill. To avoid accepting fake cash, it is imperative that those accepting large bills ensure the watermark matches the portrait or the monetary value of the bill they are getting. Anyone facing charges for unknowingly using counterfeit bills should consult an attorney immediately.

Freedom of Speech Does Not Permit Making Threats of Violence against the President

A Utah man is facing decades behind bars for repeatedly making threats of violence against the President, something not considered a right under the Freedom of Speech Clause.

Threatening the President

Photo by: Dave Newman

33 year old Travis Luke Dominguez of Midvale, Utah was arrested after calling 911 on numerous occasions and threatening the life of President Trump. Although there is no evidence reportedly linking Dominguez’s threats of violence to any substantial danger as he is known for blowing smoke, he was arrested and tried in federal court for using his words to make threats of violence against the President.

Threats of violence

Utah Code 76-5-107 notes that making threats of violence is illegal if accompanied with “a show of immediate force or violence” or while “act[ing] with intent to place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury . . . or death”. If someone threatens another and acts with intent or violence, is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. Making a threat against the President however, regardless or any accompanying action is considered a class E felony and punishable by up to five years in federal prison according to 18 U.S. Code § 871.

Freedom of (most) speech

Hateful talk towards POTUS is typical nowadays with many voicing their distaste orally or through social media accounts with vicious flare. While sharing negative opinions about the president is a constitutionally given right to any American citizen, knowingly and willfully sending threatening mail or “otherwise mak[ing] any such threat against the President . . . “ is crossing the line. This law that has been adopted into the United States legal system stems from the English Treason Act of 1351 which made it a crime to plan or “imagine” death to a member of the Royal Family. While the Puritans freed themselves from English rule, they somehow chose to keep a law placing an elected citizen on a pedestal much like the King or Queen’s with special contradictions in place to override constitutional rights of the everyday citizens. Residents of the United States are encouraged to choose their free speech carefully when speaking of individuals in high places to avoid criminal charges.

Shooting a Substation Transformer is a Federal Offense

A Utah man who chose to fire shots at a substation transformer has been indicted on a federal offense of destruction of an energy facility.

Injudicious choice of a target

Photo by: starmanseries

Photo by: starmanseries

57 year old Stephen Plato McRae of Escalante, Utah is charged with a federal offense of firing shots at the Garkane Energy Cooperative’s Buckskin substation transformer which left a transformer severely damaged and large portions of Kane and Garfield Counties without power for eight hours. According to the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Utah, on September 25th 2016 a witness to the investigation of the transformer shooting led authorities to a firearm belonging to McRae which was believed to have been used in the destruction of the substation transformer.

Up to 32 years and $750,000 for federal offense

18 U.S. Code § 1366 states “Whoever knowingly and willfully damages or attempts or conspires to damage the property of an energy facility in an amount that in fact exceeds or would if the attempted offense had been completed, or if the object of the conspiracy had been achieved, have exceeded $100,000, or damages or attempts or conspires to damage the property of an energy facility in any amount and causes or attempts or conspires to cause a significant interruption or impairment of a function of an energy facility, shall be punishable by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 20 years, or both.” Beyond the possibility of 20 years in federal prison, McRae is also facing 10 years in prison for illegal possession of a firearm and two years for possession of a controlled substance. Along with a possible combined prison sentence of 32 years, McRae also faces fines totaling up to $750,000.

Federal offense vs state offense

Federal Offense = Federal Prison

Photo by: Aaron Bauer

Destruction of an energy facility which is defined by 18 U.S. Code § 1366 as “a facility that is involved in the production, storage, transmission, or distribution of electricity, fuel, or another form or source of energy, or research, development, or demonstration facilities relating thereto, regardless of whether such facility is still under construction or is otherwise not functioning (. . . )” is considered a federal offense and those found guilty will face time in federal prisons located outside the state of Utah. Although shooting at a transformer was obviously a foolish choice, it may be difficult distinguishing what constitutes a federal crime and what is considered by the State of Utah to be criminal mischief. Utah Code 76-6-106 states: “A person commits criminal mischief if the person ( . . . )recklessly causes or threatens a substantial interruption or impairment of any critical infrastructure.” Critical infrastructure can involve many systems including “any public utility service, including the power, energy, and water supply systems”. Anyone facing state or federal charges is encouraged to seek counsel from a reputable criminal defense attorney.