SCARBOROUGH – For The Dairy Corner, on Route 1 in Scarborough, getting stuck with funny money has become an annual occurrence.

Last week, it happened for the third time in as many years, when police say an Old Orchard Beach man passed two fake $20 bills though the counter window of the popular ice cream shop.

Police say the counterfeiters, who were caught quickly by police, also passed the fake bills at two other Scarborough locations and possibly one in Windham. According to Scarborough Detective Sgt. Rick Rouse, the only thing at all novel about the transaction is that, for once, the suspect was someone from Maine.

“It usually begins about this time of year,” he said, on Monday. “You normally think that it comes with the tourist crowd, but that’s not always necessarily the case.

“It goes on throughout the season,” said Rouse. “A lot of times a business will be going through their cash and find something [with] no clue who passed it to them.”

That’s exactly what happened at The Dairy Corner, owned for the last 11 of its 32 years by Robin Provencher. On Thusday, April 28, she discovered the fake bills in her receipts from the previous day.

“It was fairly obvious, if you know what you’re looking for,” she said, Friday morning, not long after being told Scarborough police had cracked the case. “If you compared it to a regular $20, they did kind of a sloppy job, so some white showed along the top edge of one of them. The other was better. It fooled my counterfeit pen.”

According to Rouse, some of the bills passed by Brenton Blais, 32, of Old Orchard Beach, were lower denomination bills bleached out and then printed over, probably on a home computer, with the image of a $20. It fooled Provencher’s pen – which lays down an certain colored line only if a given bill is made of same linen/cotton blend as genuine currency. Paper money isn’t really paper at all. In fact, it’s a closer cousin to the shirt on your back than the page in your notebook.

“The pen will indicate it’s a real bill, because it is a real bill,” Rouse said of the bleaching trick. “It just doesn’t tell you that it’s supposed to be a $1 and not a $20.”

According to Rouse, at least one of Blais’ bills was printed on regular paper. That’s what first caught Provencher’s attention, because “it just didn’t feel right.”

As luck would have it, Blais drew the new girl on the counter. Emily Carter, 18, was just two weeks into her first job handling cash and admits she let the fake bills get by her.

“They were only in my hand for, like, 2-3 seconds,” she said, flashing a broad smile. “But I bet I could tell the difference now. It’s been a real learning experience.”

Still Carter became the star witness – remembering what the culprit was wearing and what he drove – not because she caught the graft, but because Blais has creeped her out.

“He was really weird,” she said. “He kept talking to me, just chit-chat, trying to distract me, I guess. He kept going on about the tip jar, saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember back in the day, working for tips,’ but then he didn’t leave any money in the jar.”

Scarborough police were with Provencher late Thursday morning, steeling themselves to review of an entire day’s worth of security-camera footage – which can feature as many as 500 customers on a busy day – when Carter arrived to start her shift.

“When she came in she said right away, I know who did it,” marvels Provencher. “I was like, ‘What? You remember this?’ But she definitely got a vibe off of him.”

Once police knew where on the tape to look, it didn’t take long to peg Blais as a familiar face.

“We’ve had him for other charges going back to 2006, including drugs,” said Rouse. “And there’s a [pending] case which involves a stolen check that was previous to this [counterfeiting charge]. That kind of gave us the idea he was up to something.”

It didn’t hurt that Blais can be seen on the security footage leaning in the counter window, an act that prominently displayed the tattoo on his left arm.

Blais is alleged to have also spent his counterfeit cash at Walmart. Following a complaint called in by Dunkin’ Donuts Friday morning, Scarborough police stopped a vehicle “a short distance away.” Inside were Blais and Jennifer Wormell, 31, also of Old Orchard Beach.

Found inside was a $2 plastic baseball cap Dairy Corner uses as sundae cups, which Blais can be seen on tape buying with one of his fake bills.

“The helmet was in the glove box and fell out when the officer was searching through it,” said Rouse.

Blais and Wormell were each charged with aggravated forgery – a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prision and/or a $20,000 fine. Blais also has been charged with theft, which would normally be classed as misdemeanor, given the value of items “purchased.” However, because of his prior record, Blais could have this charge rendered a Class C felony, earning him the possibility of an additional five years and/or $5,000.

There also remains the possibility of additional federal charges levied by Secret Service, which investigates counterfeit claims.

“They came out and took a look at the case,” said Rouse. “We have no idea what they’ll do with it.”

According to Rouse, Blais was out on bail by Monday and faces a late-June arraignment hearing. Scarborough police believe Blais and Wormall made the bills themselves, and may have passed them in Windham, as well as at the three Scarborough locations. A second, as-yet-unidentified woman, seen at the Walmart with Wormall, also may be involved, Rouse said.

For Carter, the experience is one she’ll remember, although she might have hoped for more.

“I was a little disappointed,” she said, laughing, while waiting on customers. “I was expecting to go in [to the police department] and have people file past. But they just came here [to Dairy Corner] and showed me pictures.”

“I told her, it’s not like on TV,” said Provencher, sharing in the laugh.

However, it’s not really a joking matter. Provencher has ordered a bill-scanning machine, and, until it arrives, has retrained her employees to hold bills to the light, to look for the telltale security strip woven into the fabric of more recent press runs.

“It’s upsetting to think that someone would do that to a small business, but I guess they really don’t care” said Provencher, knowing she’s lost forever the $40 Blais tricked her out of.

“Forty dollars is a lot of money when you consider than an ice cream cone costs $2,” she says. “If it happened more often, it would definitely impact then business.”

Emily Carter checks a $20 bill in the window of The Dairy Corner in Scarborough, looking for the telltale security thread woven into the fabric that identifies it as genuine currency. Last week, The Dairy Corner got hit with funny money for the third time in as many years. (Staff photo by Duke Harrington)Brenton Blais

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