A 22-year-old Pasco woman is looking at federal prison time for helping her father and others bleach $5 bills and reprint them as $50s and $100s to use around the Spokane Valley.
Brandy K. Mueller pleaded guilty earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Spokane to one charge of manufacturing of counterfeit currency.
She was part of a large-scale operation allegedly organized by her father, Ronald Dale Mueller. In total, about $5,000 of counterfeit money was passed, according to court documents.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors announced that Mueller was among five women to recently plead guilty for their role in the scheme, which was discovered when merchants and banks reported the fake cash. Secret Service agents and Spokane County sheriff's investigators unraveled the scheme involving at least 11 people.
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"Well-trained merchants are the first line of defense to this form of fraud," said Michael C. Ormsby, U.S. Attorney for Eastern Washington, in a news release. "Using Secret Service's training, a merchant can prevent thousands of dollars in losses that end up in the form of higher prices for the rest of us."
A federal grand jury returned an indictment with 15 counts on June 21 against Brandy Mueller, her father and five others.
Mueller was accused of manufacturing money, along with five counts of passing counterfeit currency. The crimes were between Jan. 5 and March 24, 2010.
Court documents state that Ronald Mueller manufactured and distributed fake money for at least four years by using a digital printer while living at different places in the Spokane Valley. His technique was to "wash" or "bleach" real $5 bills with commercially available chemical products and reprint them at higher denominations on the genuine currency paper, documents said.
Ronald Mueller distributed the cash to others who would get to keep a percentage of the profit after using the bad money at various merchants. "There were a total of at least 80 known passes of $50 and $100 counterfeit notes manufactured by the suspects in this case," court documents said.
Brandy Mueller was busted after she passed counterfeit bills while staying at a Motel 6 in Spokane in February 2010. She provided her driver's license as part of the registration, documents said.
The charges against Mueller for passing fake money will be dismissed at her March 8 sentencing because she admitted to manufacturing money. However, she still must pay $350 to the motel in restitution.
It is not clear from the plea agreement just how much time Mueller is facing, but federal prosecutors said they will recommend a sentence at the low end of the range.
The maximum penalty for the crime is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The plea agreement shows that Mueller agreed to a three-year term of supervised release after prison.
During that time, probation officers will be able to check Mueller's financial information, federal income tax returns and credit checks, and she will be prohibited from taking on any new debt, opening new lines of credit or entering any financial contracts.
Mueller also will be required to participate and complete financial counseling and life skills programs.
Kevin Miller, resident agent in charge of the local Secret Service office, warned businesses and consumers to be extra vigilant in watching for counterfeit currency during the busy holiday shopping season.
Genuine Federal Reserve Notes have security features, including: small, randomly disbursed blue and red fibers embedded throughout the paper; a watermark that is visible from either side of the note when held up to the light; color-shifting ink in the lower right-hand corner; and a clear, polyester security thread embedded vertically in the paper which is inscribed with the denomination of the note.
"The Secret Service places a high priority on maintaining the financial integrity of the United States currency and will continue to investigate and apprehend suspects who engage in this activity," Miller said.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org