This article originally appeared on VICE Canada
Frank Bourassa drinks Goldschlager because he doesn't like the taste of alcohol. Aversion aside, the shimmery, gold-flecked liqueur seems like an obvious choice for a man whose quest for riches drove him to print $250 million in fake US currency. For Bourassa, the shooter's saccharine taste is made even sweeter by the fact that despite his extraordinary caper, he is a free man.
We meet up with the so-called world's best counterfeiter in his hometown of Trois-Rivières, QC, at a bar that seems named after him. But the staff at "Les Contrebandiers" (French for "The Smugglers") don't recognize the man they're serving.
Bourassa attributes this to the fact that the (rather prominent) coverage of his exploits was mostly published in the US, in English. "Strangely, in my town, it's not really known because life here is all in French, and English doesn't really infiltrate the kind of insular world we have in Quebec."
This is Bourassa's life now, a quiet, modest existence in a small city that stretches along the Saint Lawrence river.
But a few years ago, the former career criminal hatched a plan that would forever alter his life. "I was just stopped at a red light," he recalls, "and I thought to myself, we get up in the morning to sell a product, provide a service, but the goal is always to make money."
"I thought well, why not cut all the steps and make the money directly, it's going to solve the problem. All the irritations, the complications and issues we have in life, at work, I won't have those anymore."
For years, Bourassa researched his plan, fastidiously studying the US bill's security features and contacting hundreds of paper suppliers to find the perfect canvas for his crime.
"I'm really something when it comes to research," he brags. "The samba? Not so much, but research? It took me thousands of hours," he says. "I had to find a recipe, ingredients, components, and a place to do it. I had to source a supplier that would produce my recipe without it seeming like this was a recipe for money paper."
After months of emails, Bourassa finally found a European shop willing to print his order, though he maintains they had no clue as to his final intentions. He describes the moment this shipment arrived to its final destination as "the happiest day of his life, by far."
It was also the most stressful. "Up to there, I hadn't spoken out loud to anyone, because a voice recording is strong evidence against you in court," Bourassa says. "Everything was done by email, and from the moment they took the paper and sent it, I had no clue whether or not they'd called the FBI."
Picking up the paper shipment at the Port of Montreal was an ordeal that required three days of surveillance, numerous accomplices, and a change of vehicles to further cover their tracks.
Sitting in a shadowy booth away from the rest of the bar's patrons, Bourassa—who refers to regular, non-criminal people as "legal folks"—runs through the myriad precautions he says most wouldn't think of taking.
"You have to transfer [the paper] to a different pallet because it might be bugged," he details, enumerating layers of obfuscation. "But once I changed it to another truck and got it to the printing press then, wow. Nothing could stop me, it was impossible."
The reason he printed $250 million, he says, is simply because that was the minimal amount of paper the company was willing to produce to justify using a new recipe. He's also just that type of person. "If I was going to do it, I was going to do it big, and I was going to do it well because if you wanna go big it's got to be well done."
"I don't do much in moderation."
For a brief few months, Bourassa was living the high life, maintaining an outwardly austere lifestyle to avoid drawing attention. "[The business] was rolling, I started with my clients, a little order of $700,000 here and then... At first it was samples, so they could pass it on to their people, they wanted to see everything, to check everything. And after the tests, they would call back."
The ideal was to get the smallest number of customers buying the largest sums of money, which Bourassa was selling for $30 per $100 bundle. But his quest for new clients led him straight into the arms of an undercover cop, putting a swift end to his blossoming enterprise. "Everything's beautiful and then you get a knock on the door and then boom, your world crumbles. It's really all within the same second," he describes.
Bourassa was now at the mercy of the RCMP and of the U.S. Secret Service, the latter obviously pushing for his extradition. This, he says, was his worst nightmare. "Then it's really over, it was the end of the world for me. You go to the States, you're far from home, you don't get visits. I wouldn't see my dad anymore, he would die and I wouldn't see him again. It was a total catastrophe for me."
With the help of a man he calls "the best lawyer in the world" and a stroke of luck, Bourassa was eventually able to whittle away the charges and gain protection from the extradition order. It all came down to a single precautionary measure: when he'd delivered a load of fake bills while under police surveillance, he had backed up into a covered area and as such was never actually seen handling the bounty.
His lawyer argued this oversight voided the initial search warrant, and Bourassa pushed the negotiations even further by offering to give up $200 million in undiscovered faux money. In the end, he would serve a six weeks sentence and pay a $1,350 fine.
The fine, he says, is for small quantities of illicit substances. "They found drugs in my car because I pick up all kinds of people—it sounds untrue but I don't take any—and they found all this stuff I didn't know was there, trace quantities of whatever, a pill that had fallen on the ground."
Behind us, the bar's exposed brick walls are decorated with framed mugshots of Lucky Luciano, Arnold Rothstein, and Al Capone—all famous criminals, all men who served considerable jail sentences or died brutal deaths.
Bourassa says he feels like he's won: he came out of this with his life, his freedom and, potentially, some his money. Of his fake fortune, $50 million was never recovered.
"The most I can say, other than it's well hidden, is that I'm in no rush to bring it out," he says of the remaining stash. "At one point I said it was 50 steps away from the big oak, but no, I can't tell you. Mystery," he grins.
When asked if perhaps his crime warranted a stricter punishment, Bourassa appears stumped. "That's a good question. Well the average person would probably think that yes. But I don't know, I made sure I wasn't hurting anyone, but in hurting the government, the government represents the people, I guess."
He says he believes his crime was relatively victimless, since he mostly sent his money overseas to Asian, African, and European clients to avoid screwing over Americans.
"[Americans] are some of the best people on the planet, but they get beat down by their government, they have it tough," he says, citing the lack of access to free healthcare as an example of this hardship. "So I didn't want to find a network of clients who'd spend this in the U.S. because the way fake money works is that anyone who gets caught with it loses it."
"I may have a lot of faults but I'm not willing to beat people down, to steal and cause someone harm. But doing something against the government, that's not something I have that much of an issue with."
There's hardly any way to track the money he sold, so Bourassa can't say whether it was used for other crimes, though "I doubt it ended up in church."
The world's best counterfeiter now runs his own enterprise, offering consulting services to help businesses thwart counterfeiters.
His freedom isn't total: Bourassa's only protected from extradition if he stays in Canada, and he still can't say whether he's still being watched (Secret Service representatives told VICE they couldn't comment on the case because their investigation is still open).
Bourassa says further surveillance would be a waste of time. "I wouldn't touch another fake $20 with a 100 foot pole," he says. "Never in my life." If he could go back, would he do it all over again? "Yeah, I'm happy, I did a good job."
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