Pinellas sheriff's detectives have arrested two men on charges related to an elaborate counterfeiting and money-laundering scheme.
The investigation began in October 2012 and could keep investigators busy for months or years.
"This investigation is really, at this point, in its infancy. It's going to be ongoing for a long time," Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri predicted Monday. "We've been able to establish at least $100,000, but we believe it's much more than that."
The two men arrested so far are 35-year-old Robert Kowalczyk of Santa Clarita, California and 46-year-old Christopher Diapsquale of Clearwater.
Gualtieri said Kowalczyk was engaged in the same activity in California and was arrested last week when he returned to Florida.
The sheriff described Kowalczyk as the mastermind of a scheme that turned genuine $1 bills into counterfeit $100 bills. He said some of the fake money was sold to others at a discount, and those individuals would re-sell it.
In one case already documented by detectives, "it probably touched hands about four times where people were buying it at a discount rate before it was actually uttered to the business that wasn't involved in it," Gualtieri said.
The money laundering charges portray a different scheme. The sheriff said some of the fake money was used to buy merchandise at stores including Home Depot, Lowes, and Wal-Mart all over the state. The merchandise would then be returned for cash refunds.
Detectives eventually started following Dipasquale, reportedly observing him making purchases, then confiscating the bills he used.
Gualtieri said some clerks were suspicious.
"They're looking at it, and it doesn't look quite right, but when you see the weave in the cotton and you got all the colors and stuff, and it passes the pen test, they take it," Gualtieri said, "Not once during all of the surveillance...not once did a clerk not accept the money -- because it's real money, it feels like it, it's real stuff."
The sheriff claimed all of the necessary tools were discovered when Dispaquale's home was searched. The transformation started with bleaching, then scrubbing the singles to create blank currency stock. Then special software was used to reprint the image of a $100 bill, followed by the hand painting of any blemishes.
A coat of lacquer for sheen and an ironing were the final steps.
"If they put as much effort into a real job as they do this stuff, they'd probably be more successful," Gualtieri observed.
Investigators think Dipasquale has been involved in the alleged activity for more than two years and Kowalczyk for about four years. That is why, at this point, detectives do not know how many people bought, re-sold or used the bogus $100 bills.
The U.S. Secret Service and the Florida Attorney General's office are also involved in the investigation.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
Didn't find what you were looking for?