CHICAGO - Donald G.M. Coxe, newly named chairman and chief strategist of Harris Investment Management Inc., was picked up by police in London last month for unwittingly passing counterfeit sterling.
He got the faux currency in Chicago at Harris Trust & Savings Bank, which owns Harris Investment Management, when he exchanged U.S. dollars for 800 in 50 notes. Half of the sterling, or 400, was, as it turned out, counterfeit.
Mr. Coxe then traveled to London to address the joint international advisory board of Barrick Gold Corp. and Horsham Corp., both Toronto-based global enterprises. Barrick is one of the world's leading gold producers, while Horsham, which has a controlling stake in Barrick, has diversified interests, including Clark Oil & Refining Corp. and real estate development in Berlin. Among those members of the board assembled were former President George Bush, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and a former head of the Bundesbank, Carl Otto Pohl.
But prior to speaking to the assemblage in the Tower of London, Mr. Coxe wound up at the Vine Street police station.
He had stopped to make a purchase at Fortnum & Mason, the exclusive food shop near Piccadilly Circus and purveyor to the queen's kitchen at Buckingham Palace.
The clerk immediately spotted as counterfeit the 50 note Mr. Coxe tried to use to pay for his cheese and tea. The clerk, questioning the cheap feel of the paper, called a security guard, who called police, who hauled him into the station for interrogation.
He was questioned for 90 minutes.
"They were pretty severe at the beginning," Mr. Coxe recalled.
Finally, the weight of his own circumstances, including his position at Harris, his engagement at the Tower of London, his lodging in London at the hotel of the Royal Overseas League - a vestige of the British empire whose guests stay by invitation only - and the fact that he had other, genuine sterling with him, persuaded the police to free him.
The police kept the 50 counterfeit note, handing him only a receipt for his unintentional escapade.
A few days later, while making his speech as scheduled, the experience gave Mr. Coxe a unique anecdote to share with the Barrick-Horsham board.
"One lesson I learned from this," he quipped to the group, "is the enduring value of gold."
Once he returned to Chicago, he turned the remaining counterfeit notes back to Harris for a refund.
"No bank would have accepted this money," a police officer in London had told him. Except, perhaps, in Chicago.
Mr. Coxe said Harris Bank had obtained the notes from a New York bank he declined to identify. "As far as they know, I got all the bad stuff" at Harris, he said.
He said the police and bank suggested the notes might have been the work of Iranian counterfeiters, who have flooded the world with the faux currency, including apparently the United States where cashiers would be less suspecting of counterfeit foreign currency.