A duo of con men is selling common-date counterfeit silver dollars of excellent quality to pawnbrokers and others. So far as is known, the con operation has been limited to Massachusetts, but no one knows if and when the thieves, a Hispanic male and an African-American male, both probably in their early 20s, may move on.
According to the United States Residency Card he uses for identification, the Hispanic man is Juan Carlos Mendez. He has used the same name and ID in all cases; the card number is 095-637-431 (the last digit might possibly be a 7 rather than a 1). A residency card doesn’t include an address, but when asked for it he frequently uses the house number 224, varying the street and town names.
In March Edward Kalp, owner of Eldorado Pawn Shop in Haverhill, Mass., who has extensive experience with coins, purchased 102 silver dollars from the two men. The coins turned out to be counterfeits. Kalp says they are of excellent quality, and pawnbrokers should weigh each one and look for coins that are heavier than they should be. However, even if all the weights are correct, that’s no guarantee the coins are the real thing. Pawnbrokers should carefully compare each coin to the others of the same date. If they are phonies, you will see that all the wear is identical: The nicks and marks are the same. “Say, there’s the same scratch over the ear,” Kalp explains.
Except for four 1928 Peace Dollars all the coins were common dates. “I never thought someone would bother to counterfeit coins that sell for $10 to $15,” Kalp says. When he weighed several, the weights were correct. Kalp says he doesn’t perform destructive tests.
The coins had eight different dates, and all were from the Philadelphia Mint. There were five Morgan silver dollars among them.
The Hispanic man did most of the talking, Kalp says. “They had a good story. He said they did clean-ups. They found the silver dollars and first took them to a bank. The bank teller offered them $1 each. They figured they were worth more than that, so they brought them to me.” Kalp paid $1,200 for the coins.
The man also said that they had some stamps and some baseball cards they had accumulated during their work, and they would bring them in the next day.
After the men left, Kalp decided to take a closer look at the Peace Dollars, the only ones that might have any significant value. He wasn’t happy with what he saw. “They looked too much the same,” he says. Kalp weighed one and found it was heavier than it should have been. Slightly lighter might have been possible, but he knew that they couldn’t be heavier and be real.
Kalp called a friend who owns a coin shop and asked him to come by. He agreed that they looked too similar to each other. Kalp’s friend took the coins to a mutual friend who performed non-destructive tests. All the coins were phonies.
Kalp considered overnight whether to call the local authorities or the Treasury Department. He decided on the latter, but before he could make the call, he was contacted by a local detective. (Kalp sends the Haverhill police department daily emails of all his purchases, as well as later making more formal filings.) The detective said he’d been notified by someone in a different jurisdiction of sales of counterfeit silver dollars by a man named Juan Carlos Mendez.
Kalp and his partner were notified that a Treasury agent would be coming to their shop to investigate on April 16. With the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon taking place the day before that, Kalp isn’t surprised that he has yet to be contacted by any agency.
Meanwhile, Kalp has checked the Internet and discovered that in October 2012 a shop in Webster, Mass., had purchased some of the counterfeits. The same ID was used as in Kalp’s store. In the article the investigating detective said he would put the word out to other pawn shops. However, Kalp has spoken to several other shops and no one was contacted.
Under the present circumstances in Massachusetts, Kalp is concerned about more than fellow pawnbrokers and other merchants being ripped off. “What is this money funding?” he wonders. “If the authorities had notified me I could have had the thief arrested on the spot. This information needs to get out so that these individuals can be brought to justice.”