Late 20th Century Masters – Arthur Williams
The last 25-30 years have seen explosive growth in technology and as you might expect, those advances have made their way into the criminal world, too. They’ve made it possible to produce counterfeit bills that are nearly undetectable by eye, to mimic security features, and to move bogus cash around the world in ways unavailable to their predecessors.
Here’s a look at one of the early high-tech scoundrels and how he seems to have turned his life around.
Arthur Williams, Jr., active 1990-2002
Incorporating the latest security features, the Series 1996 $100 bill was considered counterfeit-proof by the Treasury. At least until they met Art Williams.
Facing dire prospects after being abandoned by her husband, Williams’ mother took up with a Chicago gangster known as DaVinci for his counterfeiting expertise. Young Arthur became fascinated with the process and DaVinci took him under his wing as an apprentice.
Using bootleg Photoshop software, an offset press, and a blueprint machine, Williams started making small quantities of fake bills. But when the 1996 Series 100s came out, he saw it as a challenge.
Cracking the Barriers
The 1996 bill’s security features included a pen for detecting the starch-based papers that were almost exclusively used in counterfeiting, an embedded fluorescent security thread, micro-printing, color-shifting ink, and a watermark that was nearly impossible to duplicate.
Williams’ first challenge was the paper, and after endless experimentation he discovered that a type of newsprint was starch-free. It was also too thin, but that provided another solution. By laminating the newsprint to both sides of a thicker carrier paper, Williams could also add the security threads and watermark. He solved the color-shifting ink by using an iridescent automotive paint and having a rubber stamp made to apply it. He couldn’t replicate the micro-printing precisely, but it was so small that flaws were only detectible under magnification.
His First Mistake
Williams suddenly went from a small-time crook to a wealthy man. He traveled around with his wife, passing his bills on small purchases and pocketing the change as profits. He also sold batches to criminal gangs at 30 cents on the dollar. But the one thing he couldn’t dodge was the serial numbers on the bills. Even though he spread the phonies discreetly around, they eventually ended up at Federal Reserve Banks where the fake serial numbers were detected. The Secret Service was alerted and they started trying to locate their source.
In 2001 the Feds finally caught Williams in a Chicago hotel room with his wife’s naked sister, drugs, and $60,000 in counterfeit bills. A judge’s ruling that it had been an illegal search and seizure saved Williams from a very long prison sentence.
Meanwhile, Williams had located his long-lost father in Alaska. After skating on the counterfeiting charge, Art headed north for a reunion. Rather than counseling his son to pursue a lawful life, his dad encouraged him to start printing the bills again.
The younger Williams started printing and travelling again, stashing batches of the bills in remote areas for future use. But his father passed his share of them among friends in Alaska without observing the cautions needed to prevent detection, especially since the new bills were of lesser quality due to lack of sophisticated equipment being available to Williams.
When some of the elder Williams’ friends were arrested with the fake bills in Anchorage later in 2001, the feds used wiretaps to track down the two men behind it. Both were arrested, and Art Jr. spent 31 months in prison. On the day of his release, Williams’ father died in prison. His grief led him to reconnect with his own son, Arthur III, and use some of the hidden treasure to help promote his son’s musical ambitions.
But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and in 2003, while Williams was trying to perfect counterfeit euros for his next adventure, his son caught the bug. When Williams caught him in the act, he became angry and a subsequent argument ended up with counterfeit bills hurled at one another on the street outside their home.
Williams was arrested and spent 6 ½ years in prison. His son kept at it and was sent to prison in 2010.
Over a ten-year span, Williams made some of the best fake $100 bills ever seen. They were virtually undetectable by an average person, even when security features were checked.
HIs subsequent prison stints ultimately resulted in Williams redirecting his artistic talents toward developing a line of clothing he designed while locked up.
Today at a still-young 46, Williams does high-ticket paintings, many of which support charities he favors including helping at-risk children and benefits for Parkinson’s Disease research. You can learn more about his art and charity work on Williams’ own website at: arthurjwilliamsjr.com.
His fascinating life outside the law was chronicled in a 2005 Rolling Stone article by Jason Kersten, who released it as the book The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter. Paramount Pictures has reportedly purchased the rights and plans to release it as a movie in the near future.
For more about the life of Arthur Williams, Jr., see this 2014 article by Adam Clarke Estes.
We’ll continue our series on Notorious Counterfeiters in the coming weeks. And we’ll follow with how collecting counterfeit money has become a specialty of its own.