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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find it the most daunting obstacle to their profession in history. Many will try to master it and the overwhelming majority will fail. But as Art Williams says, “There is always a way.” ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This is the story of Art Williams, his family, and many of his friends, as he told it and as I interpreted it. If Art hadn’t summoned the courage to share his secrets with me, it couldn’t have happened. It was an immensely emotional process for him, and I thank both him and Natalie for
killer!” one of them shouted, then he slugged Art in the stomach and pushed him to the ground. While Wensdae and Jason screamed, the others had at him, shouting, “Project killer! Project killer!” over and over again. Beaten up and bewildered, Art returned home, and when his mother asked him why he’d been bullied he didn’t even know what to tell her. He got his answer a few days later from a group of boys who also lived in the Homes and hung out in the project’s playground. Noticing his shiner,
about twenty-five thousand dollars’ worth of gems and precious metals. “I’d do it myself,” he told Art, “but you have more experience with this than me, and we’ll still have to break in and be smooth about it. He works from his home and he has neighbors and everything.” Art was not only flattered, but it sounded like a dream opportunity. Even if they somehow got arrested the jeweler wasn’t going to press charges, and there’d also be no need for surveillance since they’d know exactly when he’d be
front seats, waiting. He stopped venturing outside, turned down the shades, and spent what was left of March beached on the sofa reading and watching TV. His plan was to bore the Service into moving on, but he became caught in his own trap. With too much time to think, he lapsed into a severe depression. “I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he says. “I figured that was it, game over. We lost the house in Marshall, and it was only a matter of time before the Service caught me for something
We just started laughing because we’d never seen so many gas stations.” Based on their change returns, they calculated they’d hit roughly forty-five stations in just over three hundred miles—about one station for every seven miles of road. The closest call they encountered turned out to be right there at the hotel in Coeur D’Alene. Later that evening, Art ventured down to the lobby bar for a celebratory beer; he’d heard a healthy commotion from the bar when they’d checked in, but it wasn’t until