Miami couple faces federal counterfeit money charges

A Miami-Dade County duo caught by Keys deputies allegedly passing counterfeit bills at several businesses in February is now facing serious federal time.

Investigators with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Secret Service say Francisco Montes-Quinones, 70, and wife Mariela Carvajal-Perez, 52, bought several items from retail businesses and restaurants throughout the Upper Keys with phony $100 bills. In exchange, the unsuspecting clerks and servers paid the difference in real money.

For example, Carvajal-Perez used a counterfeit $100 bill to buy a pair of $20.43 sunglasses from Backcountry Cowboy Outfitters on Feb. 14. She received $79.57 in real change.

On Feb. 25, Carvajal-Perez ordered a fish basket and a couple of drinks at Gilbert's Resort in Key Largo, again using a fake $100 note to pay the tab. She not only got a free meal, but also almost $80 in real money, according to an April grand jury indictment that a federal judge unsealed late last week.

Carvajal-Perez faces a total of more than 100 years in federal prison if convicted on five counts of passing and uttering counterfeit money, one count of conspiracy and one count of possessing counterfeit money.

Montes-Quinones could get up to 65 years in federal lockup if he's convicted on two counts of possession of counterfeit money, one count of passing and uttering counterfeit money and one count of conspiracy.

When deputies arrested the pair in February, they found 19 counterfeit bills on them and in their pickup truck.

Detective Barney Sajdak spotted the pickup after hearing a police-radio report that a couple tried to pass a phony bill at the Mother Ocean Consignment shop at mile marker 99 on Key Largo.

"A sharp cashier" at the Key Largo store helped foil the crime by refusing the phony bill and calling the Sheriff's Office, Deputy Becky Herrin, the agency's communication officer, said.

Several of the bills seized had identical serial numbers, a sign they are counterfeit. A machine check at Capital Bank in Tavernier confirmed the fakes.