Counterfeiting cases on rise, meth makes a comeback in Iowa

by Gigi Wood

CORALVILLE – Two rising crime trends in Coralville are affecting businesses.

One is an increase in the number of counterfeit bills circulating through town; the other is an anticipated upswing in drug cases involving methamphetamine.

Coralville Police Chief Barry Bedford presented the department’s 2009 annual report to city councilors at a work session May 25, when he pointed out the increases. He said patrol officers are encouraged to stop motorists for minor offenses, including license plate light outages, to gain a better knowledge of who is traveling through the community, which is located along heavily traveled interstates and highways. Those roads serve as passageways for drugs and other crimes from criminals transporting illegal goods from coast to coast and from Mexico and Canada.

“We want to know who is here and what they are doing,” Mr. Bedford said.

Those officers are finding out what those motorists are doing and many of them are up to no good, he said.

“There are a lot of bad people out there,” he said.


Working with the U.S. Secret Service, Coralville police investigated 11 counterfeiting cases, representing the distribution of thousands of counterfeit bills.

As counterfeiting methods become more sophisticated, police officers are seeing more cases of fake bills circulating through town. Most counterfeiters take existing $1 and $5 bills, bleach them and print higher bills over them. The bills can be authenticated by checking the internal security strip, which reveals the bill’s actual value, looking for color changes and the image of the president.

“The only real way to catch it is by holding the bill up to the light,” said Lt. Shane Kron of the Coralville Police Department.

Cases occur most often on weekends, so the fakes are not discovered until banks open on Monday and the criminals have left town. The criminals that have been caught have all been from out of town, he said.

“They choose their clerk,” he said. “They try to pick a young one or a busy time of day or go into a mom-and-pop shop at night when the owner is not there and they have a high school kid working for them,” Mr. Kron said.

Awareness by shop clerks is a great way to avoid counterfeiters.

“Clerks deal with people all day long, everyday. They really do have a good sense of when it doesn’t seem right. They know by what the person buys and how they present,” he said. “It’s a cat-and-mouse game but there’s never a shortage of mice.”

Meth lab increase

Mr. Bedford said the department is preparing for resurgence in meth cases and labs in the area.

The Johnson County Area Drug Task Force seized 1.25 kilograms of methamphetamine, including 27 meth labs in 2009.

In North Liberty, there were five or six meth labs discovered earlier this year, said Jim Warkentin, chief of the city’s police department.

“We have not seen this many in such a short time span,” he stated in an e-mail.

Police are seeing an increase in meth after a dip in cases from 2006 to the end of 2008. Drug makers have found ways to produce meth without anhydrous ammonia.

Also, a state law restricting access to pseudoephedrine quelled meth cases until drug makers began finding a way around the rule. Individuals are allowed to buy 7,200 milligrams of the drug, often found in allergy medicines, each month. Pharmacies such as Walgreens track who is buying the medicine and report suspicious amounts to the police.

“The pseudoephedrine law kind of knocked things out for awhile,” said Officer Shane Chandler, an area law enforcement officer who frequently investigates narcotics offenses. “But once these people figured out how to get around the law, it started increasing.”

Drug makers have discovered they can buy the 7,200 milligrams from Walgreen’s and then go buy the same amount from the pharmacy at Hy-Vee and Walmart and so on. While the chain stores communicate within their companies, there is no network that connects one company’s data to another.

“There’s not much the pharmacist can do,” he said.

When contacted by a pharmacy about a suspicious purchase, officers visit other pharmacies in the area for receipts from the same individual.

Work on a central database to connect the pharmacies is ongoing and is anticipated to be complete this year. Meanwhile, residents who discover 1- or 2-liter soda bottles with contents inside, typically in ditches or in fields, should contact the police without disturbing the item. It is the common method of meth production today, Mr. Chandler said.

Police ask residents and businesses to document license plate numbers of people committing or attempting to commit crimes and report them to the authorities.