Two men have been arrested in Alabama after they allegedly went on a spree of spending fake $100 bills which they purchased online from the darknet. According to reports, Justin Landon Aldon, 31, and Shahal Devonte Lewis, 26, were engaged in a multi-state counterfeit money spending spree. They are now in custody facing numerous charges. While similar darknet purchases of counterfeit money have been in Europe, this is the first we have seen in the United States.
Reports from investigators suggest they targeted stores in Alabama. After purchasing goods or items, they would pay with thousands of fake $100 bills and in return get real money as change. The Police department in Alabama believes the culprits could have possibly spent some of the fake $100 bills in North Carolina and South Carolina and other locations. They also stated that there were at least 30 incidents in Alabama; the Office of Crenshaw County Sheriff has sent a notification out to other agencies.
They were accused of going to numerous stores in a space of 45 minutes in Crenshaw County alone including Dollar General, where they were caught. Mickey Powell, Crenshaw County Sheriff stated in a statement that, Justin and Shahal purchased 1,000 counterfeit $100 bills on the dark web for $100. Last Sunday, they allegedly left Stone Mountain in a U-Haul, heading to Alabama to make transactions for which they’d get real money as change.
“They admitted to buying the counterfeits on the black web possibly via Ukraine through a bitcoin transaction,” the sheriff said, “The price is $100 for every $1,000.”
Ukraine has been a hotbed of darknet drug dealing and crime as of late, making it easy for internationals to purchase illegal goods like counterfeit money. Such was the case here, where these two men started this dubious scheme in the northern part of the state and fortunately it all came to an end at the Dollar General on Highway 331 in Brantley after Clerks at a store blew the whistle on them.
They became suspicious after the two men both paid with a $100 bill to the cashier after buying some few items. They immediately noticed that there was something wrong with the money but were too scared to say anything because the men were still in the store. She then informed her supervisor who called 911 after the men had left. Authorities upon arriving were given descriptions by the store’s staff about the vehicle they believed the suspects were riding in, a rental U-Haul van.
Surveillance footage at the store was reviewed by a deputy and afterwards dispatched a search party after the U-Haul. Josh Williams, also a deputy managed to stop the van at the intersection of 331 and old Three Notch. He detected a powerful smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle as he approached it giving him and his other deputies a reason to search it.
The two individuals in the van were identified as the men caught on the surveillance tape at Dollar general paying for the items with fake money, the sheriff said.
Counterfeit $100 bills worth up to two thousand dollars in total were found hidden in the van with one of the suspects also had an additional $100 in his possession. That amount although didn’t add up to what the pair had already spent, according to investigators.
“They were going to keep going till they ran out. They weren’t going to stop,” sheriff Powell stated.
They were apprehended and taken to the Crenshaw County Jail and towed the van which after investigation, belonged to Justin Aldon, of Atlanta.
Aldon stated that Shahal Lewis, a native of Stone Mountain, one of the two culprits was his friend who came along for the money. According to investigators, Lewis was already on state probation and had a warrant out in Maryland.
“They would go in and purchase any small items, usually less than $10. They would pay using a fake $100 bill and get about $90-95 back in good currency,” the sheriff stated. “They were just tossing the bags in the back of the van. We pulled the receipts out of each one of the bags so we could go back and check where they purchased all of the stuff from.”
After looking at all of the receipts, additional agencies were contacted because they indicated the counterfeit money was passed at many locations.
“The receipts show they started in Limestone County and worked their way south. There are going to be several other cases to come out of this other than the ones here in Crenshaw County,” the sheriff added.
Lewis and Aldon are both charged with possession of marijuana and 26 counts of possession of a forged instrument in Crenshaw County with their bonds being set at $1 million each. Additional charges on other jurisdiction are also a possibility.
The sheriff also later expressed his gratitude to Kean Daniels and Angela Holloway, the clerks at the Brantley Dollar General who made the arrest possible.
“They’re the ones that gave us the tip on these guys. Probably if it hadn’t been for them, these guys would still be going. They were on top of things and noticed the bills. Hundreds more had been passed and they slipped right on through but these folks were on their game,” he said.