Remembering The Retiree Who Became America’s Worst Counterfeiter

The Hustle tells the story of a mysterious legend who “produced thousands of the ugliest counterfeit $1 bills ever made…so poorly done that the Secret Service thought the perpetrator was intentionally mocking them” — using a small hand-driven printing press in his kitchen:
It was printed on cheap bond paper that could be found at any stationary store. The serial numbers were “fuzzy” and misaligned, the Secret Service later said. George Washington’s likeness was “clumsily retouched, murky and deathlike,” with black blotches for eyes. And just for good measure, the ex-president’s name was misspelled “Wahsington”…
He also never spent money in the same place twice: His “hits” spanned subway stations, dime stores, and tavern owners all over Manhattan. Investigators set up a map of New York in their office, marking each $1 counterfeit location with a red thumbtack. They handed out some 200,000 warning placards at 10,000 stores. They tracked down dozens of folks who’d spent the bills. But 10 years came and went, and the search for Mister 880 turned into the largest and most expensive counterfeit investigation in Secret Service history. By 1947, the Secret Service had documented some $7,000 of the distinctively terrible fake $1 bills — about 5% of the $137,318 of fake currency estimated to be in circulation nation-wide. As it turned out, the worst counterfeiter in history was also the most elusive…

Agents busted into the brownstone, expecting to find a criminal mastermind. Instead, they were greeted by a jovial 73-year-old — “5’3″ tall, [with a] lean hard muscled frame, a healthy pink face, bright blue eyes, a shiny bald dome, a fringe of snowy hair over his ears, a wispy white mustache, and hardly any teeth.” It was Emerich Jeuttner, the old junk collector. Juettner seemed unfazed and endearingly aloof. When answering questions, he’d pause and offer a toothless grin…
“They were only $1 bills. I never gave more than one of them to any one person, so nobody ever lost more than $1.”

The likeable 73-year-old was given a lenient sentence of 1 year and 1 day, the article points out — meaning Jeuttner was eligible for parole after four months. And he was given a fine of exactly $1.

Jeuttner then sold the rights to his life story for a 1950 film (which won an Academy Award) — bringing him more money than he’d earned during all of his years as a counterfeiter.

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