An iconic wood-chipper, commemorative snow globes and an original screenplay from the movie “Fargo” — all that and more is on display at a shrine to the Oscar-winning film in Fargo, North Dakota.
The Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau used to have another movie prop as well: stacks of fake cash, used in filming the 1996 black comedy about a ransom plot gone awry.
But then a Minneapolis-based Secret Service agent stumbled upon the imitation cash in June as she was traveling in Fargo during President Trump’s visit to the state, according to Charley Johnson, president and CEO of the visitors bureau. The agent confronted staff and told them that harboring the fake money (which said “movie money” on it) was against the law, Johnson said in a phone interview.
“She was trying to kill some time,” Johnson said, explaining that the agent said she came to see the wood-chipper. “Then she found a crime. We’re going to believe she didn’t come here suspecting nefarious activity.”
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The agent instructed staff to remove the “fraudulent” cash from the display case to destroy it, Johnson said.
“She had us count it,” said Danni Riley, the bureau’s visitor experience manager. “I asked her if she wanted to take it, and she said no. She told us to bring it to the bank.”
The next day, the agent came back to make sure the staff had taken the fake cash to the bank for it to be destroyed, Riley said. Their business manager already had.
President Trump traveled to North Dakota’s largest city on June 27 for a rally, which was when the agent spotted the money, Johnson said.
Protecting the president is a large part of the Secret Service’s mandate, but its original purpose was to go after counterfeit money following the Civil War, according to Joe Scargill, special agent in charge of the Secret Service’s Minneapolis field office.
“About a third of all money in circulation after the Civil War was counterfeit,” Scargill said in a phone interview, adding that the service didn’t get its full-time job with the president until McKinley’s assassination.
That means being on the lookout for fake money is in the agency’s DNA, he said.
“Even possession of counterfeit money is a federal offense,” said Scargill, who oversees Secret Service operations in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
Happily for Fargo’s visitors bureau, however, “you have to knowingly possess it” for it to be a real problem, Scargill said.
Scargill recommended that anyone who realizes they have fake money on their hands turn the cash in to local law enforcement. He also said this sort of situation isn’t unheard of.
“We do see a lot of movie notes,” Scargill said.
There are “very specific guidelines” for reproducing currency in a way that conforms with the law, whether it’s for movies or other novelty purposes, Scargill said.
Scargill did not comment on the specific incident in Fargo, but said he was looking into it and did not respond to subsequent requests for comment.
Johnson and Riley didn’t seem too disappointed about losing the fake money.
After all, Fargo still has its “Fargo” wood-chipper, made famous when a criminal in the movie used it to grind up the remains of Steve Buscemi’s character — spraying blood and guts onto the snow as Police Chief Marge Gunderson, played by Frances McDormand, arrives at the scene.
And the wood-chipper remains in good repair.
“If you put a spark plug in it and changed the oil, it would probably work,” Johnson said.