In the gangs and underworld of the Southside of Chicago, Art Williams grew up a local street tough and born hustler, who as a teenager learned the centuries old art of counterfeiting. He became a master of his craft and used his street contacts in Chi-town to sell millions of printed counterfeit bills to organized crime syndicates. From his cell block in federal prison he got with gorillaconvict.com to let us know what he is doing now and how he has left the art of counterfeiting behind, sort of. But don’t let us tell it, let him. Introducing Art Williams, master counterfeiter.
How did you get into counterfeiting?
When I was about 15 my mother’s boyfriend took me under his wing and taught me the ancient craft. My family lived in the projects of the Southside of Chicago and I was a troubled kid. We were dirt poor and I would break into parking meters and cars, steal bikes and hustle weed. Anything to make a dollar. My mom’s boyfriend saw potential in me. He liked the fact that I tried to take care of my mom and siblings. So he decided to teach me a better way to make money.
How did you counterfeit the supposedly unbreakable 1996 100 dollar bill?
Carefully, actually it was a trial and error process. I would try one thing and if it didn’t work I would try something different until I figured it out. I’ve always had a relentless attitude toward things. Whenever I put my mind to something I do it.
What type of people did you do business with and sell the money too?
Dangerous ones. Growing up on the Southside streets of Chicago I ran with some real characters. Every culture has a mob in Chicago- Russian, Chinese, Italian, blacks, Mexicans- if you’re not a part of that mob it’s hard for an outsider to safely do business with them. But as a teenager I played basketball and would travel to all the different cultural neighborhoods. I met a lot of kids in those neighborhoods and befriended most. Later in life when I was printing cash those same kids were grown up and we connected in some way. It made for safer dealings.
How much prison time have you done because of your counterfeiting?
About nine years altogether.
By the time you’re released in 2013 the new hundred dollar bill will be circulating. Will you be tempted to crack it?
Of course, but I won’t, at least not on the printing press.
On a very big piece of canvass. To help pass my time I started to use different art mediums to recreate old money into beautiful pieces of artwork. When I’m released I plan on replicating the new hundred as the final piece in my money collection. This way allows me to accept the challenge without breaking the law.
Do you think you can break the new hundred?
Absolutely, anything created can be duplicated.
If you broke the new hundred on canvass what would keep you from actually printing it?
Prison, but really the technology the bureau of engraving uses, specifically the nano ink, would be almost impossible to break, especially for high distribution. Crane, the company that makes the money paper bought the company that makes the nano ink. Trying to get the ink would be like trying to get the paper. It’s not going to happen.
Why did you decided to run old money into art? No pun intended.
When I was young and being taught how to counterfeit my teacher would express the artistic beauty the old engravers displayed in their works. He showed me some of the first bank notes that were printed and immediately I saw why he referred to money as art rather than currency. Now that I no longer can print due to the federal law prohibiting such an act and my current incarceration I decided to recreate the old maters. I also wanted to bring to the world the lost art of making money. Most people have never saw the old paper money that eventually replaced gold and coins. Recreating the old money is my way of preserving history and giving the old master engravers their due credit.
You mentioned your teacher I assume this is the man named Davinci in the book about you The Art of Making Money. Is Davinci his real name?
Can you tell us his real name?
During my lessons of the printing process, Davinci liked to tell stories. At the time I was young and didn’t pay much attention to his stories. My interest was solely on printing money. But when I was interviewed for the book The Art of Making Money his stories resurfaced in my memory and I was surprised and grateful at how much I retained. I knew I couldn’t use my teacher’s real name so I chose Davinci because most of the stories were about Leonardo Davinci. Plus my teacher loved art.
Can you tell us one of those stories?
How about Leonardo Davinci was a counterfeiter. Davinci said “the old mater Leonardo would grow angry with those he worked for. Said they were cheap and never wanted to pay his worth.” So the old master Leonardo would turn lead into gold, counterfeiter the Medici gold. Alchemy was really just counterfeiting.
Some story, do you believe it?
Why not, I’ve seen stranger.
Are there any other stories you can share?
Not at this time, I just finished my first novel called Caines Dagger and within its pages I placed many of the things DaVinci taught and spoke on.
You also just finished an 1886 two dollar silver certificate. What changes did you make to it? And why?
I changed the plate letter from C to DV. I changed the serial number to match my U.S. Marshal number. I put Forrest City on the pillars to represent the prison I created the bill at. I added to the bill the symbol of the fifth element in sliver. I changed the symbol on the money bag to the Medici’s coat of arms symbol. I changed the sentence “This certifies there has been deposited in the United States” to “This certifies time has been deposited in the United States.” I opened the eyes on the center female who represents science. I made these changes and many more to give the bill an aspect of my own vision without robbing the integrity of the bill.
What’s next for you once you’re free?
Hollywood baby… I like to make things, so I want to produce movies. After that, who knows?