’s deputies break up counterfeiting ring; $10,000 in fake bills
San Martin – Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies broke up a counterfeiting operation Thursday in a Morgan Hill motel room, where they found more than $10,000 in fake bills and all the equipment necessary to make them.

They arrested two women and a man who were occupying the room at the Holiday Motel on Monterey Road: Richard Upshaw, 32, of Santa Cruz; Renee McCormick, 23, of Santa Cruz; and Kelsey Welty, 21, of Soquel.

Upshaw turned out to be a fugitive being sought by U.S. Marshals on federal counterfeiting warrants, according to sheriff’s detective Julian Quiñonez. This was Upshaw’s third arrest for counterfeiting, Quiñonez said.

The bills didn’t feel very much like real currency, Quiñonez said, but otherwise they were relatively sophisticated. When held up to the light, each revealed a security strip on one side and a second presidential portrait watermarked into the other. In the room, deputies found equipment used to copy these federal safeguards, intended to foil counterfeiters.

Most of the bills were $100s, but there were also several $50s and some $20s, $10s and $5s. Some were unfinished, printed only on one side. The $20s had splashes of color like the real ones issued earlier this year.

Deputies also found small amounts of methamphetamine and marijuana, as well as items that Quiñonez said raised questions: a bulletproof vest, an archaic gun covered in rust and several hats, belts and a handbag made out of fake bills.

McCormick reportedly led deputies to the motel after using a fake $100 bill to buy hair products and a 32-ounce beer at Rocca’s Market on Monterey Road in San Martin.

According to accounts from Quiñonez and market owner Tom Rocca, a cashier was suspicious of the bill McCormick offered to pay for her $24 purchase at 3:35pm. Before he could question it, however, McCormick asked for directions to the nearest state Department of Motor Vehicles office. Distracted, the cashier gave her directions along with change and a receipt.

“I guess she kind of got him off track, and he passed the bill,” Quiñonez said.

As McCormick walked to her car, the cashier showed the bill to Rocca.

“At first glance I was suspicious,” Rocca said. “At second glance I knew what it was.” His first thought was, “I think we can get her.”

As Rocca exited the store, however, he said McCormick’s red Toyota hatchback was pulling onto northbound Monterey Road – not southbound, toward the DMV. Rocca memorized the license plate number, wrote it down and called 9-1-1.

Quiñonez recounted the rest of the story.

Rocca got the number wrong – a sheriff’s deputy came up with nothing while running the number through a computer – but a bystander had written down the correct number on a cigarette box. That plate matched a 1986 Toyota Tercel, just like the one Rocca described.

The deputy put an alert on the police radio, and at 4:10pm – 35 minutes after McCormick passed the fake bill – deputy Dave Roberts reported seeing the car parked at the Holiday Motel.

A motel clerk told Roberts and deputy Shawn Harrington that the car was associated with Welty and told them her room number. Welty answered the door then they knocked. As she went to get her identification card Roberts reportedly saw several pipes, of a type used for smoking methamphetamine, in plain view on the bed.

Welty tried to push the door closed on the deputies, but they entered anyway. McCormick was hiding, crouched, behind the door. Upshaw was taking a shower.

Upshaw initially identified himself as “Brian Larson,” but he later admitted his true identity after deputies found his Social Security card in his wallet with his true name and found his description matched the one a U.S. Secret Service agent gave them for Upshaw.

On the beds, deputies found a cash box and a suitcase that contained fake bills, paper, ink and the watermark plates. They also found a laptop computer with an image of the back of a $100 bill on the screen.

On a dresser was a color printer/copier/scanner. Loaded into the paper tray was a sheet of paper with a bill-size piece taped to it.

On the bathroom counter was a toiletry bag full of wet counterfeit bills. Beneath the sink were multiple bottles of rubbing alcohol. Quiñonez suspects the counterfeiters washed the bills in alcohol to make them look and feel more like real currency.

The serial numbers on the fake bills matched those that had been found in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, plus one bill found in Florida, according to Quiñonez.

The sheriff’s office is now working on the case with the Secret Service, the lead federal agency for counterfeiting cases.

If you have more information about this case or think you may have gotten a counterfeit bill, call sheriff’s detective Julian Quiñonez at 686-3661.

Peter Crowley covers public safety for The Dispatch. E-mail [email protected] or 847-7109. Staff Photographer Max Morse contributed to this report.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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