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Dave Roepke, Published July 16 2010

Bill-making bust called area’s biggest

Metro police say they’ve dismantled a sizable counterfeit bill-printing operation with a flurry of arrests earlier this week.

The case sprang from the Sunday arrest of a 21-year-old Moorhead man alleged to have bought a Red River Valley Fair Mega Pass with three fake $20 bills, and it appears to have links with at least three arrests in the past six months for passing fake money.

Authorities confiscated scanners, printers and solution for washing bills while executing search warrants in Moorhead on Monday and Tuesday and seized more than $5,000 in counterfeit bills, West Fargo police stated Thursday in a news release.

“It’s probably one of the better organized ones that we’ve seen in a while,” West Fargo Police Detective Sgt. Greg Warren said of the alleged bill-printing operation.

According to the U.S. Secret Service, it’s likely the largest counterfeiting ever uncovered in the metro area, West Fargo Detective Derek Cruff said.

Charged in Clay County District Court are:

Cass County prosecutors and federal prosecutors are also considering charges, West Fargo police said.

While investigating the case, authorities arrested Bradley Poitra, 42, of Wahpeton, N.D., on an active warrant for counterfeiting charges filed March 15 in Cass County.

It’s not the only link St. Claire has to a prior arrest for counterfeit currency.

He was in the car with Brittany Belgarde, 24, of St. John, N.D., when she was arrested Feb. 10 after fake bills fell out of her sweatshirt during a West Fargo traffic stop.

Belgarde pleaded guilty to a federal counterfeiting charge June 21 and is set for sentencing on Sept. 2.

As a juvenile, St. Claire lived in Dilworth at the same home as Dennis Lilley, a man arrested on Feb. 12 for trying to use a fake $50 bill at the Empire bar in Fargo. Lilley pleaded guilty in April and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Dilworth police, acting on a tip from an informant, investigated St. Claire in connection with those two cases, executing two search warrants that didn’t lead to charges, according to court records.

Cruff said police are still investigating how the cases from earlier this year may connect to this week’s bust.

The arrests come amid a rash of reports of fake bills being passed at metro-area businesses in recent weeks. Police in Fargo have investigated more than a dozen cases of counterfeit bills passed at businesses since mid-May.

Authorities said they broke the case open Sunday with the arrest of Robert Lee Flores, the man accused of buying the Mega Pass with fake bills. West Fargo police tracked him to the fair and arrested him.

On Monday morning, they searched the Pontiac Grand Am that Flores allegedly drove to the fair and found more fake bills that appeared to be leftovers from a counterfeit operation, West Fargo police stated.

Items bearing St. Claire’s name were found in the car, and police later pulled St. Claire over in Moorhead on 15th Avenue North, court records state. At that time, he and Thompson were arrested on warrants, and a counterfeit detection pen was found in Thompson’s purse, court records state.

Following the arrests, investigators searched a pair of apartment units at 1008 2nd Ave. N., including one shared by St. Claire and Anderton, finding ink, cutting instruments and copies of U.S. currency.

On Tuesday, the Honda that St. Claire and Thompson were in when they were arrested was searched. Police found computers, printers and chemicals used in counterfeiting, according to the warrant filed Thursday.

Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535