By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A joint city-county investigation led to an arrest a day after local law enforcement received a report about counterfeit Christmas Cash.
Michael Wayne Hipple, 38, of Hill County was arrested at 6:10 p.m. Tuesday on a charge of forgery, Havre police said.
Counterfeit Christmas Cash, test copies of counterfeit cash, a computer, a scanner, and newly purchased appliances and food items were seized during a search of Hipple's home east of Havre on Tuesday afternoon, Havre police Lt. Russ Ostwalt said today.
The Christmas Cash program, organized by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, allows people to obtain short-term no-interest loans from participating banks. Sixty-two area businesses participate in the program, a few of which stopped accepting Christmas Cash when proprietors learned of the counterfeit cash Monday.
Independence Bank alerted the Havre Police Department and the Hill County Sheriff's Office on Monday afternoon that it had received counterfeit Christmas Cash.
"We've been working nonstop since then," Ostwalt said. He handled the investigation for the Police Department, and deputy Dottie Dwyer investigated for the Sheriff's Office.
Ostwalt said the fake cash had come to the bank from stores in both the city and county, including Bi-Mart, Kmart, the Emporium and Holiday gas station.
"It was regular, old-fashioned police work and talking to people," he said about the methods he and Dwyer used in their investigation.
Ostwalt and Dwyer went to the businesses that had received the bills, interviewed witnesses and looked at surveillance tapes to identify suspects. They wrote a search warrant Tuesday afternoon and went to Hipple's home east of Havre, where they found evidence of counterfeit Christmas Cash production and purchases from the businesses where the counterfeit cash was used, Ostwalt said.
"Almost all the money is accounted for," he said. He said it did not look like there were any other individuals involved.
Ostwalt said that Hipple was on probation for another offense and a state probation officer accompanied him and Dwyer when the arrest was made.
Gary and Leo's IGA is accepting Christmas Cash again, a decision that store manager Tracy Job said was made before he knew about the arrest.
"We will accept Christmas Cash as long as folks spending it have a proper I.D. and we have them sign it as they would a check," Job said. "Hopefully that will help clean up the program this year. Otherwise it could get pretty messy."
Albertsons manager Bill Filler said the store has not yet resolved the question of whether it will return to the program.