Details emerge in New Year’s Eve counterfeit arrests

Victor Henry denied being the mastermind of a counterfeiting operation when East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office investigators questioned him on Dec. 31 about bogus currency he allegedly gave four women to freely spend at Baton Rouge stores and restaurants.

Henry, 22, pulled out a wad of $20 bills from his pocket, telling investigators who interviewed him at his Baton Rouge hotel room that he won the money gambling and was unemployed.

One of the women in the room with him, Krystal Noriega, 23, also denied being involved as she pulled a large stack of $20 bills from her own purse — money she claimed to have earned from a job as a dog groomer, according to court documents that reveal new details about the investigation.

“When asked if she had any additional money inside her purse, Noriega declined to answer and then refused to allow her purse to be searched,” Financial Crimes Detective Kevin Chenier wrote in a search warrant.

Henry and Noriega, both of Houston, and three other women — Mazarati Esset, 22, Houston; Tabatha Jolivet, 22, Houston; and Kayla Peterson, 22, Pasadena, Texas — were subsequently arrested on allegations they drove from Houston to Baton Rouge with stacks of counterfeit $100 bills that Henry acquired in Houston.

Authorities provided this account of how the scheme worked:

Henry gave the four women the money and they broke up into two teams of two to hit several businesses on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30, buying small items so they could receive change from the stores.

They would then return to the motel and give the change to Henry, who would provide them with their “cut,” which investigators have said ranged from $150 to $300 per person per day.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks has said investigators think the group may have hit as many as 24 businesses in Baton Rouge. They were each booked into Parish Prison on counts of monetary instrument abuse and misdemeanor theft.

Detectives were probing a rash of counterfeit $100 bills floating around the city when they got a call from a manager at Office Depot on Siegen Lane on Dec. 29 who said a woman had just tried to use a counterfeit $100 bill.

The manager said when they turned the woman away, she ran outside and jumped into a waiting silver Dodge Challenger.

Other businesses have come forward, saying fake $100 bills were passed at their establishments, including one that said the woman who gave them the bill matched Noriega’s description and that she was seen leaving in a silver Challenger.

Detectives found a car fitting that description as well as a gray Nissan Maxima allegedly used in the crimes at a Super 8 Motel across the street from the Office Depot, court records show.

When investigators arrived at the motel, they found several bags in plain view in the rooms and in the back seat of the Challenger, including bags from Albertsons, Walgreens, American Eagle Outfitters and Limited Edition, the warrant says.

They also found receipts from Victoria’s Secret, Lucy’s Health store, Foot Locker and Auto Zone, the search warrant says.

They seized 28 counterfeit $100 bills, $3,603 in cash and a large bag of rubber bands as well as a receipt from a Howard Johnson Hotel and a Scottish Inn hotel key card, the warrant says.

Investigators think the five might have stopped in other cities and spent some of the counterfeit bills there, so they reached out the U.S. Secret Service to help them with the investigation and coordination with other agencies.