A 27-year-old printer accused of manufacturing more than $6,000 in counterfeit bills was sentenced to probation Thursday after telling the judge he viewed the scheme as a joke and a professional challenge.

"We were just kind of kidding around," Elias R. Escamilla, Provo, told federal Judge David Sam. "It was somewhat of a challenge."Sam told Escamilla, a Mexico City native, counterfeiting was "a very, very serious offense." But he ignored prosecutors' request that the defendant be sentenced to at least 18 months in prison.

The judge said the case was unusual and it would be unfair to impose a prison term when two co-defendants, sentenced before the guidelines were imposed, received only probation.

In addition to 5 years probation, Escamilla was sentenced to 90 days in a community treatment center and fined $1,000.

Defense attorney Michael Martin said Escamilla was "the least culpable" of the three printers because he thought the money was to be destroyed. The other two, without Escamilla's knowledge, passed nearly $600 of the fake money, he said.