Two students have been arrested after phony $20 bills were found being passed among students at Cypress Ranch High School on Fry Road in northwest Harris County.
Some students were passing the fake currency to pay for school lunches, while deputies said other bills may have been used for payment away from campus.
Lunch room workers first alerted constable's deputies to the phony money after it turned up in their coffers after lunch at least twice this week, according to Precinct 4 Constable's Lt. Donald Steward.
"A young man actually did counterfeit the bills and would trade them with other students or just pass them with no fee at all," said Steward.
He said at least $500 worth of fake bills were confiscated from the 16-year-old who had been scanning and printing the bills on his home computer, as well as the 15-year-old who was then passing them to friends.
The bills then started turning up in students' pockets all over school, Steward said.
"Through word of mouth, this student had one and this student had one, and students were called in by the administration and these bills were collected and taken," he said.
He said the 15-year-old was passing the fake bills in the lunch line and then pocketing the change each time. Other students would pay pennies on the dollar to get in on the phony cash racket.
"Sometimes he'd charge the student a buck or two or three for the bills and some students, of course, decided to go ahead and pass those bills," he said.
The U.S. Secret Service was called, but since juveniles are not prosecuted in federal court, agents turned the case back to local police to file charges in criminal court.
Deputies said one student was suspended and then arrested at his home, while the other student was arrested at school on Wednesday.
Both were charged in juvenile court with a felony count of Forgery of a Government Instrument.
Their names were not released due to their ages.
In an e-mail, a Cy-Fair Independent School District spokesperson wrote, "As a result of the timely response of those (cafeteria) employees, the situation was investigated and students were disciplined."
Steward fanned out the confiscated collection of phony cash and pointed out that the smooth bills that had not been folded were not very convincing.
"Once they're crinkled up and that sort of thing, a person who handles money would think it's a real bill if they're not paying attention," he said.
All of the fake bills displayed the same two serial numbers, according to deputies, and the computer printing did an adequate job of displaying the varying colors embedded in the bills for security purposes.
Several students said they hadn't heard about the phony bills or the arrests.