By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A Havre man accused of forging Christmas Cash - which caused three Havre merchants to temporarily pull out of the popular program - has been given a five-year suspended sentence.
Michael Wayne Hipple, 38, also was sentenced Monday to five years in prison, with three years suspended, for criminal possession of dangerous drugs. The two sentences are consecutive.
Hipple printed phony Christmas Cash on his home computer and used it in November to make purchases at four Havre businesses, according to court documents.
The program, sponsored by the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, offers no-interest loans from local banks that can only be used at participating Havre businesses during the Christmas season.
The 15-year-old program typically provides about $250,000 in loans each year.
Chamber executive director Debbie Vandeberg said today the chamber and local banks are still working on ways to ensure that forgeries do not happen in the future. One possibility raised during the Christmas season was using cards similar to debit cards instead of using paper certificates.
"That definitely is a goal, to make sure this doesn't happen again," she said.
Independence Bank notified the chamber on Nov. 29 that it had received counterfeit Christmas cash. Three of the 62 merchants that accepted Christmas cash canceled their participation until security measures were put in place. Those included requiring merchants to check identification and write names and addresses on Christmas Cash they accepted.
Hipple was arrested on Nov. 30 after law enforcement officers interviewed employees of the four businesses where more than $500 in forged Christmas Cash was passed Nov. 18-19, a court document said.
The majority of the items Hipple purchased with the forgeries was found in his residence and returned, the document said. Law enforcement officers also found some test copies that had been thrown away, the document said.
Judge David Rice sentenced Hipple to a five-year suspended sentence for a felony charge of forgery by common scheme and ordered him to pay $200 in restitution to Independence Bank.
In a plea agreement with the Hill County Attorney's Office, Hipple had pleaded guilty to the forgery charge, as well as to posssession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia. A charge of operating a clandestine laboratory was dropped.
The drug charges stemmed from a report on Jan. 23, 2004, from a Havre business where Hipple worked nights as a janitor that he had been seen shooting up drugs at work, a court document said.
Law enforcement officers arrested Hipple, and officers found two empty syringes and two syringes with methamphetamine on him while booking him into the Hill County Detention Center, the document said.
Officers also found items commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine in his residence after the arrest, the document said.
Hipple was sentenced Monday to a six-month suspended sentence on the drug paraphernalia charge.
He now faces revocation of two five-year suspended sentences on drug charges in Pondera County, court records said.
The 2003 Pondera County sentences were for felony charges of possession of dangerous drugs and conspiracy for criminal production or manufacture of drugs.