On Master Counterfeiter Frank Bourassa

portrait: Vice Media

portrait: Vice Media

Frank Bourassa might not be as well known as Catch Me If You Can’s infamous Frank Abagnale, but as the most prolific counterfeiter in American history, with around 250 million dollars in fake bills still floating around, you’d think that he’d be so much more notorious. In theme with this month’s focus on making money, we’re taking a look at a man who made a lot of it in a less than reputable way.

Bourassa, who originally hails from Trois-Rivières, a suburb of Montréal, began his criminal career early. In the 7th grade, at 12 years old, he noticed some older students showing up at school with bags of clothes that they’d stolen from the mall and was struck with inspiration. Envisioning himself as a middleman, he began stealing clothes to sell. “All that really mattered to me was that I had customers.” He earned a couple hundred dollars a week selling stolen clothes over the next few years and enjoyed being able to feel independent.

When Frank was 15 he was kicked out of school and he subsequently moved out of his parent's house. Bourassa found a legitimate job working as a mechanic, but began fencing stolen cars on the side, again finding himself a middleman. After spending some years doing this mix of legal and illegal work, he decided to go completely straight and started his own business manufacturing brake pads. He worked 20-hour days to make his small business a success. The hard work paid off, but Frank was exhausted. He eventually had a nervous breakdown, “I didn’t have a clue what was happening to me.”

He decided to take off and travel. “I couldn’t work anymore because I was shaking so much.” When he returned from his world travels, he decided he was through with legitimate work. He was resolved to never work a 20-hour day again. “There was no way I was going to allow it to happen, ever again.” Living off of savings and also dabbling in the marijuana trade, he tried to dream up a new scheme. Frank wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he knew that he wanted to work alone and that he wanted enough time to drive and listen to music and think. His thinking was cut short for an arrest for marijuana, and he went to jail for a few months.

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When Frank got out in 2008 he went for a drive. “It occurred to me at a red light: Why the hell go through all this hassle of finding product, selling it, finding customers, accounting, and all of that trouble, to bring it back as money? I loved money so much I decided to make my own.” Though he was Canadian, he thought that American money would be more profitable to make. He dedicated the next year and a half to learning how to manufacture money. The detailed descriptions of security features on the United States’ government websites were a particularly useful resource.

Frank prioritized two things: securing the right kind of paper and securing the right equipment and software. He began phoning around Europe, trying to find a paper mill that he could dupe into making the kind of paper he needed. Having found a German company, he initially told them he wanted the paper to print bonds on, and then he asked for small modifications until they had what he needed. His most audacious requests were to have a watermark etching of Andrew Jackson’s face and a small security strip reading “USA TWENTY” added to the paper. He was surprised when they complied, and by 2009 he’d received the customized paper.

KNOW YOUR MONEY   : 1. Watermark 2. Color-shifting ink 3. Security thread 4. 3D security ribbon 5. Serial numbers 6. Federal Reserve indicators 7. Note position and number 8. Face plate number 9. Series year 10. Back plate number (not shown) . CREDIT: Seven Days

KNOW YOUR MONEY: 1. Watermark 2. Color-shifting ink 3. Security thread 4. 3D security ribbon 5. Serial numbers 6. Federal Reserve indicators 7. Note position and number 8. Face plate number 9. Series year 10. Back plate number (not shown) . CREDIT: Seven Days

Trying to keep his criminal activities hidden from his girlfriend, Bourassa spent nights printing money in a location that is still secret. He spent five months printing up the $250 million in fake bills and then began selling to various criminal groups. The groups he sold to came back for increasing amounts upon seeing that his carefully designed counterfeits were essentially undetectable. Pointing towards a strange kind of moral code, he somewhat thoughtfully did not sell his fake bills to American criminal syndicates, as he wanted to avoid flooding the market after the United States’ 2008 financial crash. Realizing in 2012, that he still had plenty of “money” to offload, he began looking for new buyers and this was his downfall. One of the new buyers had been infiltrated by the police and this soon led to the Canadian police, accompanied by the American Secret Service breaking down his door.

photo: Getty Images

photo: Getty Images

He managed to avoid being extradited to the US and upon telling his lawyer about $200 million in fakes the police had not discovered, he was able to get most of his charges dropped in exchange for handing over his multitudes of fake bills. He paid about $1,350 in Canadian money as a fine for drugs the police had found during the raid and was set free.

Some people think Bourassa is holding on to more money than he ever revealed, but Frank swears he’s gone straight. “There’s no way I’m ever going to touch another counterfeit again, even with a 100-foot pole, ever in my life,” Frank explains that the prospect of jail is what really deters him. “You get 60 years at 40 years old, it means your life is over.” Frank Bourassa now works as a consultant, using his expertise to help clients ranging from governments to large companies (all of their identities are kept a secret) avoid various forms of counterfeits. Though Frank has turned his life around, he says he is still haunted by his past crimes, and that he has to lay low. “A lot of people are not happy about the outcome of my situation. Life is complicated for me now.”