Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Teenage crook who took advantage of a visually impaired clerk got caught!

The voice and the Doritos gave him away.

At the same time, they helped lift the spirits of a visually impaired snack-bar operator targeted four times in one day with customers paying with counterfeit $100 bills.

It happened this week, in of all places, the Summit County Courthouse.

Laura Kolb, 34, whose vision has been diminished since birth, has operated the downtown Akron courthouse snack bar for less than two months.

She has battled sight issues, cancer, an arsonist for a neighbor and bankruptcy in her 34 years.

And when her husband, David, called from the bank Tuesday, she was ready to chuck her new business and head into solitude.

During the course of business Monday — selling the daily lunch specials, coffee, soda and chips — Kolb was paid four times with fake $100 bills.

To her, it was like being kicked in the stomach and pocketbook at the same time.

''This isn't some big money-making place. That $400 is a big part of the week's profits,'' she said from the snack-bar register Thursday.

''So, I was just flipping out when my husband called me. My God, I was depressed. I just stood here crying, thinking of all the bad luck I've had in my life.''

Kolb, a mother of four, said she thought about giving up the business opportunity from the Society of the Blind, which staffs courthouse snack bars throughout Ohio.

Then she changed her mind and decided to play detective using one of her greatest senses: her ears.

She remembered the voice of one of the $100 customers; a soft-spoken, younger man who ordered only a bag of Doritos.

She told snack bar worker Bruce Golomboski on Wednesday that she would signal him if the customer was brazen enough to return.

Sure enough, he did.

And her plan worked.

''I got a bag of Doritos, and here's a $100 bill,'' the voice said.

Kolb yelled to Golomboski, who is also visually impaired. That customer's voice was stuck in her head.

''Hey, Bruce, can you get me some 20s from the safe?'' she asked.

There is no safe behind the counter. The phrase was her cue for Golomboski to call the cops.

''When I reached for the bill, I was having a hard time keeping my hand from shaking; I was so nervous and excited,'' Kolb said. ''I really wanted to catch him because whoever it was kept coming back again and again, probably because I'm visually impaired. They must have thought I was stupid or something.''

As the customer sensed trouble, he began to walk away, leaving his $100 bill in Kolb's hand. Law enforcement, naturally, wasn't far behind in a courthouse.

The 16-year-old boy was detained by an Akron police officer near the snack bar and passed over to a sheriff's deputy, who was also nearby.

''I would imagine some people think the blind make easy targets,'' said sheriff's Lt. Kandy Fatheree, who supervises courthouse security. ''But in this case, [Kolb] may have lost one sense, but with the other senses she has, she was able to pick him out right away.''

David Lee, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service Office in Akron, said counterfeiting is a constant battle for law enforcement, only made tougher by modern technology.

He said the counterfeit-detecting pen, like the one that failed Kolb four times Monday, is not endorsed by the federal government and is not 100 percent reliable.

The bogus bills handed to Kolb were $5 and $10 bills manipulated to look and feel like a $100 bill. Business owners and consumers, if possible, must look closely at large bills being passed, he said.

''[Counterfeit bills are] out there because technology has made it relatively easy to do,'' Lee said. ''Fortunately, most of the citizens, the business people in this community, the people that deal with currency, the financial institutions, do a good job of a picking the currency out when it's attempting to be passed.''

Kolb said she hopes her actions will help other businesses be aware. She also said she has a new policy at the snack bar: no bills larger than $20.

In the meantime, authorities are searching for other suspects from Monday and to determine if the teen is part of a larger group of adult counterfeiters circulating bills to area businesses.

''I feel good about this child being caught,'' Kolb said. ''But I'm also sad because he is so young and he's being used by somebody older. He just doesn't have positive goals.''

Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or


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