Thursday, September 18, 2003

Forged money traced to MU

Student accused of making bills

By Janice Morse, The Cincinnati Enquirer
and Aaron Johnson, Enquirer contributor



OXFORD - Like most college students, Tori Traficante wanted to make a little money - and she did, police say, with a computer and printer.

"When people think of counterfeiting, they think of some older guy sitting in a basement, smoking cigars, using a printing press and cranking out bills," said Detective Sgt. John Buchholz.

Instead, police say the 20-year-old Traficante sat in her Miami University dorm room and used a computer to print fake $5, $10 and $20 bills.

It's a highly unusual crime for Miami University, police said. In more than 25 years of police work at Miami, Buchholz could not recall a similar case involving a student.

Lee Fields, assistant agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service's Cincinnati office, confirmed thatit's rare for his agency to become involved in a case in which a college student is a suspect.

"Generally, students are not the criminals that we target. ... If they're in school, if they're in college, they're on the right track," Fields said.

The Secret Service helped campus and city police search Traficante's Hahne Hall room last week and seized computer equipment and other evidence, including "counterfeit money torn up and deposited in trash cans," a court record shows.

The sophomore sociology major has a court appearance scheduled today on felony charges of forgery and possession of criminal tools. Her lawyer, Dan Haughey, did not return a telephone call seeking comment Wednesday.

A second Hahne Hall resident, Nicholas Kirincic, 20, also is to appear on a forgery charge today, but police said they have no indication he helped make the fakes. Kirincic was arrested after trying to pass a bogus bill at Johnny's Deli, Buchholz said.

About two weeks ago, police began receiving reports of the counterfeit bills passing through a half-dozen area businesses, including a High Street bar/restaurant called 45 East, Talawanda Middle School's deposit at Fifth Third Bank, and even at Butler County Area I Court.

The counterfeit bills that have surfaced total only a few hundred dollars so far, Buchholz said. Some businesses are stuck absorbing losses for the fake money, he added: "Somebody has to pay for that bill they're passing; and that's what makes counterfeiting, even on a very minor scale, so serious."

Federal officials say the amount of fake U.S. currency in circulation has declined in recent years. In 2001, the Secret Service snared $49 million in bogus bills. By last year, the number dropped to $44.3 million.

However, the amount of fake cash seized from counterfeiters has soared worldwide, from $66 million in 2001 to $130 million last year. Much of it came from foreign locations, especially South America, the Secret Service's Washington headquarters said.

Deli discovery

The call that helped crack the Oxford case came from Johnny's Deli, Buchholz said.

Michael Pumphrey, a manager there, knew several counterfeit bills had been passed recently - and had even taped one above the cash register as a reminder. Then, last Thursday, the student later identified as Kirincic appeared, attempting to pay for cigarettes with a $20 bill.

"It had a very yellow tint to it and no bar running through the middle," Pumphrey said. Those distinctions were difficult to discern at night, he said, "but in the light of day, it was obvious."

Pumphrey told the student: "I'm calling the cops - stay here."

The Miami Redhawks' football defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi, happened to be at Johnny's. Narduzzi stood blocking the doorway, "and basically made it known that he was going to be in charge," Pumphrey said.

The student didn't say much, Pumphrey said, but "right when they (the police) pulled up, he had the (nerve) to ask me: 'Hey, is this going to take a while? Because I've got other stuff to do.' "

The ensuing investigation led to Traficante.

Hahne Hall residents were in disbelief over the allegations Wednesday.

"She was a very friendly girl and I had no idea she was involved with anything like that," sophomore Tara Gilts said. "I just saw her out and about a lot." Martin Kearney, another sophomore, said, "I was kind of surprised to hear about it because I thought you would need some kind of really expensive equipment to forge money. You just don't imagine something like that going on in a dormitory."

New security features on genuine U.S. currency are hard to simulate, so forgeries stand out more now.


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