By Paul Stone
PALESTINE — Five East Texans — all of whom either reside in Anderson County or have local ties — have been indicted by a Tyler federal grand jury for allegedly participating in a conspiracy to distribute counterfeit bills.
On Thursday, Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor told the Herald-Press that the following persons were indicted earlier this month on the charge of conspiracy to utter counterfeited obligations into the U.S.:
• Johnathon Levi Baublet, 25, of Athens;
• Ricky Eugene Johnson, 32, of Palestine;
• Natasha Lynn Bates, 23, of Palestine;
• Cecil Ray Turner, 34, of Palestine; and
• Lesli Nicole Teems, 26, of Elkhart.
The quartet’s indictments were unsealed earlier this week.
If convicted, each of the suspects faces up to five years in federal prison and a fine not to exceed $250,000.
Johnson and Bates were arrested at separate residences in Anderson County on April 15 by representatives of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office and the Tyler office of the U.S. Secret Service.
Baublet and Teems turned themselves in on the same day at the Anderson County Jail after speaking with investigators with the sheriff’s office, according to Taylor.
Turner, meanwhile, was already in custody in the Anderson County Jail on an unrelated family violence charge, the sheriff stated.
All five suspects have since been transferred to the Smith County Jail in Tyler, according to Taylor.
Taylor said his agency’s investigation into the counterfeiting scam began one year ago, with the Secret Service becoming involved last July.
“We know it to have been linked to different areas between Houston and Dallas and including Houston and Dallas,” Taylor said.
One of the federally-indicted suspects was charged locally in connection with the counterfeiting operation last fall.
Baublet was arrested by Anderson County sheriff’s authorities on Sept. 22 during the course of traffic stop when $3,498 in counterfeit bills was allegedly discovered hidden in his pickup.
Shortly before Baublet’s arrest last fall, law enforcement authorities had reported an unusually high number of counterfeit bills circulating in Anderson County.
Subsequently, the federal government seized a small amount of counterfeit money and a printer believed to have been used to produce some of the counterfeit bills at Johnson’s residence, according to the sheriff.
The group mostly produced fake $5s, $10s, $20s and $100s, authorities have said.
“Some of the bills were actually pretty good,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the group used the fake money to purchase a wide variety of items, including expensive clothing, boots and belts.