LAWRENCE — Police say a drug arrest became an investigation of counterfeit money yesterday after they seized $1,080 in bogus bills from a Haverhill man who they caught injecting himself with heroin as he sat in the passenger seat of a parked car.
“That is my money from my SSI check,” Michael Righini told members of the Police Department’s Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit after they discovered the phony money in his front pants pocket, Officer Shaun P. McLellan wrote in his report.
After removing the money from Righini’s pocket, the officer said he quickly suspected the bills were counterfeit because their texture didn’t feel right. He also noticed that 23 of 24 twenty dollar bills had the same serial numbers. There were also six one-hundred dollar bills — three of them with the same serial numbers and two others with identical numbers.
When Officer McLellan asked Righini why he was carrying counterfeit money, Righini answered “I don’t know. I cashed my check and that’s what they gave me,” according to the officer.
“There is so much of this stuff around I am surprised that you guys don’t get more of it,” Righini reportedly told the officer.
Righini, 30, of 162 S. Pleasant St., in the Bradford section of Haverhill, was charged with possession of heroin and possession of counterfeit notes.
James Boddy, 26, of Greenlawn Ave., Haverhill, was charged with knowingly being present where heroin is kept. He told police he was Righini’s friend and just gave him a ride to the city. He drove the car that police had under surveillance in the parking lot of the Greater Lawrence Community Health Center at 150 Park St.
Righini and Boddy were due to be arraigned in Lawrence District Court today.
Meanwhile, what began as a routine drug arrest developed into a more unusual investigation now involving federal authorities. An agent from the U.S. Secret Service was at the Lawrence Police station last night as the agency joined police in the probe.
“That’s a significant amount of counterfeit currency for one person to be carrying,” Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said in an interview.
“Generally, you get a bill or two when you catch somebody with counterfeit money outside of a counterfeit money operation take-down. So, this was quite a bit. We want to know where it came from and so does the Secret Service. So, we’ll be working with the Secret Service as we try to get to the bottom of this,” the chief said.
Romero said he believes the hundred dollar bills could have easily been passed as legitimate currency and may have gone undetected if isolated from the bogus twenty dollar bills.
“The texture of the twenty dollar bills didn’t feel real,” Romero said.
“But I have to tell you, after looking at those hundred dollar bills, they sure looked and felt real. Still, being a such a large denomination, they might be tough to move. People would be more apt to look at them,” he said.
“If it weren’t for the fact we knew the $20 were counterfeit — and that’s what made us look at the $100 bills — we may not have noticed anything. And that’s also if there were different serial numbers on the bills. One would really have to look closer to find out these bills ($100) were counterfeit,” Romero said.
The chief noted that it was highly unusual for a local drug suspect to be carrying such a large amount of counterfeit money.
“We haven’t seen that before,” the chief said.
“Drugs fuel most crime that occurs in our city, and here’s an example of how drugs intertwine with other crimes. Here we make a drug arrest and it leads us to a significant counterfeit arrest and a continuing investigation for us,” he said.