The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter
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Read Jason Kersten's posts on the Penguin Blog.
The true story of a brilliant counterfeiter who "made" millions, outwitted the Secret Service, and was finally undone when he went in search of the one thing his forged money couldn't buy him: family.
Art Williams spent his boyhood in a comfortable middle-class existence in 1970s Chicago, but his idyll was shattered when, in short order, his father abandoned the family, his bipolar mother lost her wits, and Williams found himself living in one of Chicago's worst housing projects. He took to crime almost immediately, starting with petty theft before graduating to robbing drug dealers. Eventually a man nicknamed "DaVinci" taught him the centuries-old art of counterfeiting. After a stint in jail, Williams emerged to discover that the Treasury Department had issued the most secure hundred-dollar bill ever created: the 1996 New Note. Williams spent months trying to defeat various security features before arriving at a bill so perfect that even law enforcement had difficulty distinguishing it from the real thing. Williams went on to print millions in counterfeit bills, selling them to criminal organizations and using them to fund cross-country spending sprees. Still unsatisfied, he went off in search of his long-lost father, setting in motion a chain of betrayals that would be his undoing.
In The Art of Making Money, journalist Jason Kersten details how Williams painstakingly defeated the anti-forging features of the New Note, how Williams and his partner-in-crime wife converted fake bills into legitimate tender at shopping malls all over America, and how they stayed one step ahead of the Secret Service until trusting the wrong person brought them all down. A compulsively readable story of how having it all is never enough, The Art of Making Money is a stirring portrait of the rise and inevitable fall of a modern-day criminal mastermind.
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Art and Wensdae flatly blame their aunt’s assault with the beer bottle for what they refer to as their mother’s “problem.” After that first “leprechaun” episode, Malinda’s illness became a major destabilizing factor. Doctors prescribed her lithium, which was extremely effective at suppressing the symptoms—so much so that when Malinda was feeling really good she’d stop taking the medication altogether. Then it was only a matter of time before her brain realigned to its natural chemistry. When it
of a stepfather who came along later. “Arty’s life and my life were very similar, and we recognized that right away,” says Mikey. “The only thing I was thankful to my dad for was that he made me a hundred percent Italian.” Unlike many other street criminals Art knew, Mikey rarely boasted when it came to his exploits as a shakedown man, and Art sensed that the older boy was cautious and enterprising when it came to crime. It had been all these factors—Pepitone’s street smarts, his courage,
Palmer, the mountains narrowed in from both sides and they wound into the Matanuska Valley, carved by a glacier and silvered by the wide Matanuska River. They hugged the river for twenty miles, until finally Senior took a left off the highway and climbed toward the Talkeetna Mountains along a dirt road. There was nothing at the end of it but his house and two hundred acres of forest that were his. Art was speechless when he saw the house. Although it was unfinished, it was a tavernesque,
question that everybody wants to ask the most, but is afraid to ask too soon. “Do you have any on you?” “Some.” “Can I see it?” Art ran out to the trailer, then returned a few minutes later with a bill and silently handed it to his father. Senior inspected both sides, rubbed his fingers across it, and held it up to the light. Art was now fully conflicted. “Even as I wanted him to get angry and tell me to quit, just as much of me wanted him to like it. I wanted him to see what I’d done for
that earlier that morning she had received a phone call from the warden at FCI Sheridan. That morning, Senior’s cell mate had been unable to wake him for the first count. Medics had rushed to the cell, and it was later determined that he had suffered a massive coronary attack. He had passed away in his bunk. Art hung up the phone and pulled over at the corner of Loomis. He expected to break down, but he didn’t. Other than telling his sister the bad news, he would continue with his day as he had