Lawmakers consider higher penalties for counterfeit money

Lawmakers consider higher penalties for counterfeit money

PINE BELT (WDAM) - Mississippi lawmakers are expected to discuss increasing criminal penalties for passing smaller denominations of counterfeit money.

Under current Mississippi law, if the amount of counterfeit money involved is more than $500, it is a felony charge punishable by two to 10 years in a state prison, up to a $10,000 fine or both. However, if it less than $500, those found guilty can only receive a maximum punishment of six months in a county jail, up to a $1,000 fine or both.

"So they're considered misdemeanors under a certain amount, and we would like to see that increased to where any of it, basically, is a felony because there's a lot of that that has been transpiring here in the local area," said Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall. "It hurts businesses. Obviously, they're expecting when they get payment for goods or services for it to be good, and unfortunately, it seems to be a proliferation of the counterfeiting in the smaller denominations. So we just feel, public policy-wise, it would be a good idea to go ahead and make the penalty at least a felony (with) over a year, up to five years imprisonment or up to $10,000 (in fines) or both hopefully to deter some of that kind of counterfeiting activity that'll be going on, especially in the holiday season."

Law enforcement officials in Perry County, Wayne County and Jones County had several reports of counterfeit money circulating through stores in the last several weeks.

"Just an incident of going to the dollar store, buying $20, $30 worth of merchandise, and they're using this counterfeit money in small amounts to come in and do that, " Perry County Sheriff Mitch Nobles said.

With people often passing forged $20 and $100 bills, Nobles said stronger penalties for passing smaller amounts of money are needed.

"Yes, I agree because a lot of what we've dealt with in this county is smaller amounts of counterfeit money," Nobles said. "It's like a ring of counterfeiters going around making, producing this money, and, I guess, distributing it out in smaller amounts. Then they come to these smaller stores and use it. Again, it's not a large amount, so if they make a strict penalty for any counterfeit money, I agree 100 percent with it."

Fillingane said tougher punishment for counterfeiters would benefit both business owners and everyday people.

"Business owners, when they accept counterfeited bills, the costs go up for everybody else, the law-abiding citizens," Fillingane said. "The companies, obviously, aren't just going to eat the losses there. They're going to, in turn, pass those along to consumers and increase cost of their goods and services to make up for that, so we can protect the business owner as well as law-abiding citizens out there who are just trying to buy a good and service for a reasonable price."

Nobles said, "Yeah, it would help everybody because a lot of these are small businesses. I've been doing this 20 years now, and I've (gone) to many a store where it was $10, $20, $30 that was passed. You know, it was a small amount, and most of the time, they don't get any justice for that. But doing this, making it stricter on them, I agree that it would help the stores, help us, help everybody. When I worked with the Petal Police Department, we would always get calls from your small stores. Most of the time it was $20 bills and then $100 bills that would be passed. It would just be one $100 bill, so the penalty wasn't enough for the crime. I think upping this would make it a lot better."

Fillingane expects lawmakers to take up the issue during the 2017 legislative session, which starts Tuesday.