ANGELINA COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Four people have been charged in connection to a string of counterfeit bill transactions that allegedly occurred in Angelina County back in March.
Preston Nathaniel Lee Brown, 20, of Highlands, is currently being held in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison. Jamarcus Denundre Berry, 21, of Diboll was already being held in the Angelina County Jail, and Samantha Nicole Earley, 19, and Andriana Nicole Sanches, 18, both of Lufkin, were arrested by the Diboll Police Department earlier this week.
All four people were charged with second-degree felony engaging in organized criminal activity. Berry, Brown, and Sanchez are still in custody. Earley was released Monday after she posted a bail amount of $10,000.
According to Lt. Norman Williams with the Diboll Police Department, two of the suspects were already in custody, and the engaging in organized criminal charges were added to their existing charges.
Williams said both women said the counterfeit money belonged to Brown. He added that two more people are under investigation and that that more criminal charges could be pending.
According to the arrest affidavits for Earley and Sanchez, a Diboll police officer was dispatched to the town's Dairy Queen, which is located at 202 N. Temple Drive, on March 24 in reference to counterfeit money. The restaurant's manager told the officer than two women came into the business, ordered some food, and paid for it with a fake $100 bill, the affidavit stated.
The phony bill had "For Motion Picture Use only" printed on it, the affidavit stated.
Earlier that day, Diboll PD officers had responded to a similar call at the town's Church's Chicken. According to the affidavit, someone attempted to pass a fake bill that also had "For Motion Picture Use only" printed on it.
The Diboll PD investigator who obtained the arrest warrant got copies of video surveillance footage from Dairy Queen and Church's Chicken. The footage shows that one woman tried to pass a phony bill at Church's Chicken while the other was at Dairy Queen, the affidavit stated.
The affidavit stated that although the woman who went to Church's Chicken wasn't successful in passing the bogus bill, the second woman managed to use the counterfeit money to pay for her food.
When authorities questioned Earley, she allegedly admitted to passing the fake bill at Dairy Queen, but she said the bogus money came from Brown. She said that Sanchez went into Dairy Queen with her, and that earlier in the day, Sanchez tried and failed to pass a counterfeit bill at Church's Chicken.
Further investigation revealed that Berry also tried to pass a fake bill at Church's Chicken, the affidavit stated.
When investigators talked to Brown at the Angelina County Jail, the suspect told them that the counterfeit money was his and that he and Berry stayed in the vehicle when Earley and Sanchez went into Dairy Queen and Church's Chicken, the affidavit stated.
"[Brown] stated that they all discussed it beforehand and decided it would be best for the females to pass the fake bills," the affidavit stated.
According to the affidavit, the charge would have been third-degree felony forgery. However, the charge was upgraded to a second-degree felony engaging in organized criminal activity charge.
Feliciano Estrada, an investigator with the Diboll Police Department, said that on the evening of March 24, a woman went to a Lufkin Taco Bell and used a bogus $100 bill to buy a $1 burrito. He said the restaurant's employees didn't notice the fake bill until it came time for the bank drop.
Estrada said Tuesday that more of the bills could still be on the streets.
"It's very possible. As a matter of fact, Lufkin received a call yesterday, and I believe the county has also received a call," Estrada said.
Estrada urged businesses to be cautious, especially when it comes to people using $100 bills to make purchases.
"Look very closely at the hundred dollar bills because that's what they are passing," Estrada said.