Fine print, Living with credit, Protecting yourself

‘Can you break a $500 million note’ scam costs a man from (of course) Florida

Jay MacDonald

Here in Florida where I live, we’re used to being the butt of jokes. Stupid human tricks have become our second leading export, narrowly trailing oranges. We’ve been skewered by “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” more times than Herman Cain. Pundit Keith Olbermann once devoted an entire “Countdown” show to assorted Florida fails and fiascoes.

But this one, ladies and gentlemen, has raised the bar on ridiculous, even by Florida standards.

On Dec. 6, justice finally caught up with one Cleland Ayison, a 32-year-old Tampa man who was charged with trying to pass a fake $500 million Federal Reserve Note to an FBI undercover agent.

Can you break a $500 million note?

That’s right: essentially a half-billion-dollar slip of legal tender. Try breaking that at your local 7-Eleven!

Cleland was arrested after setting up a $1.1 million deal to sell the fake currency. The sting was part of a two-year crackdown
on white collar crime and investment fraud in South Florida, where the search for a definition of the word “money” remains a work in progress.

Still, even by South Florida’s flexible standards, Ayison exceeded credibility by about $499,990,000.

According to the Federal Reserve Board, the largest note ever printed by the U.S. Treasury was the $10,000 bill, last printed in 1945. In 1969, the government officially ceased printing denominations of $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 due to lack of use — as opposed to lack of demand.

Which begs two questions of Mr. Ayison: How the heck would you even get that many zeros onto a banknote, and who would appear on the face of it? The Monopoly guy?

Ayison’s aborted retirement plan could have cost him three years in the big house had he not been tried and sentenced in Fort Lauderdale, where even federal judges savor stupidity the way others savor, say, a vintage cabernet.

Following what I presume was a full-blown, tears-down-the-cheeks laughing jag in chambers, U.S. District Court Judge
William Dimitrouleas let Ayison off with six months’ house arrest, five years of supervised release, 250 hours of community service and a checkup from the neck up by a certified shrink.

“It becomes almost laughable,” the judge told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “To me, it doesn’t promote respect for the law
to send someone to prison … for doing something so silly and outrageous.”

Stay tuned for Mr. Ayison’s upcoming TV show, “Who Wants to Be a Half-Billionaire?”

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