Odors lead police to possible counterfeiting ring

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It's not every day the nose leads investigators to an apparent counterfeit ring, but that's apparently what happened for police at a hotel Sunday night.

It began as a simple response by the Baton Rouge Police Department to a strong odor coming from one of the rooms at the Comfort Inn on Constitution Avenue, but now, the US Secret Service is assisting BRPD into the investigation of what appears to be a counterfeit operation.

A call to a Baton Rouge hotel room for noise and smell disturbances quickly turned into so much more for police. According to police documents, hazardous materials (haz mat) units and officers discovered a white powder substance located throughout the room.

Three men were arrested at the scene with more than $6,800 in cash. They have been identified as:

Lashalln Lagarde, 39

Kenneth Sterling, 27

Dewillie Thomas, 30

They were all charged with property damage and conspiracy to commit monetary instrument abuse, which is basically illegally altering money.

The suspects also described two other men who fled the scene as appearing to be from Africa.

So, do police have a counterfeit ring on their hands? Former federal prosecutor Brad Myers said the arrests do raise some eyebrows.

"I think it's probably not uncommon to see every now and then somebody passing a 20 [dollar bill] here or there, but a scheme to pass a large amount of money in this area is pretty uncommon," Myers said.

The documents also show the suspects told police they gave the foreign men a portion of their cash in order for the counterfeit money to be made and according to Myers, this area may be the back-drop they were looking for.

"It's not uncommon to see people try to pass counterfeit currency in more rural areas or smaller cities. Most of the time, they pass them or try to pass them and retail establishments aren't as sophisticated as in a larger metropolitan area," Myers explained.

As BRPD, along with help from the Secret Service, determines what it dealing with, Myers believes the best course of action is caution.

"You really have to be paying close attention if you're a retail outlet who thinks you may have currency, but sometimes, it's really difficult to tell a real bill from a fake bill," Myers said.

Myers added the next step for BRPD will most likely be trying to track down the two foreign suspects and then trying to determine if the counterfeit attempts stretch much further beyond the men arrested.

Copyright 2012 WAFB. All rights reserved.