Secret Service barking up the wrong tree

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Catchphrases are annoying. Regis Philbin and &8220;Is that your final answer?&8221; probably takes the cake in recent TV history.

Sure, it was cute for the first five or six episodes of &8220;Who wants to be a Millionaire&8221; in 1999. Then it got old.

The game show still became &8220;explosively popular,&8221; as Wikipedia says. Eleven million-dollar winners (including an Ole Miss grad) to date have walked away with it all.

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There&8217;s something elusive about a million dollars. It&8217;s the figure we all use to define ultimate wealth. It&8217;s the number kids toss around for pretend bets and dares.

But there is no million-dollar bill in the U.S. currency. I&8217;m sure the reasons are numerous &8212; for one, it would sure be a downer to have a million-dollar bill and lose your wallet.

Just because the government doesn&8217;t print the bills doesn&8217;t mean other folks don&8217;t either though. Some try to fake it for the wrong reasons, others are having innocent fun and some use the idea to convey a message.

A Google search for million-dollar bill gets you, well, millions of results. Funny money pranks, corporate gifts, pick-up lines and the Living Waters Store, to name a few.

It&8217;s Living Waters that&8217;s made headlines lately.

The organization prints and distributes million-dollar bills that carry a gospel message on the back. Evangelist Ray Comfort and &8220;Growing Pains&8221; star Kirk Cameron use the tracts frequently in their ministry.

Thursday, Secret Service agents showed up at the Texas office of the Great New Network &8212; a Christian organization that partners with Living Waters.

The agents seized 83 packs containing 100 of the bills each, claiming the money was counterfeit, a Dallas TV station reported.

Can you counterfeit something that doesn&8217;t exist? I guess a judge will decide that eventually.

The Secret Service has said it responded because someone in North Carolina attempted to deposit one of the million-dollar bills in the bank.

Who knows if the North Carolina initiator thought the bill was real or not. Perhaps they just wanted to fool a bank teller and fulfill their get-rich-quick scheme.

But it seems the Secret Service may have jumped the gun a little. The bills &8212; which have been handed out in Natchez &8212; are marked &8220;this is not legal tender.&8221;

The back of the bill reads &8220;The million dollar question: Will you go to heaven?&8221; and proceeds to list a test, asking readers if they&8217;ve ever lied, stolen, etc., and what the consequences of sin are. The message is several lines long &8212; identifying that the bill isn&8217;t real money.

Tract printers have held firm that they aren&8217;t breaking any law and have said they don&8217;t intend to stop printing the bills. The Living Waters Web site is currently sold out but says they are reprinting. They are also printing a new version &8212; larger than a regular U.S. bill, in compliance with Secret Service requests. The company says on the site if they are issued a cease-and-desist order, they&8217;ll stop making the bills &8212; but no such order has come yet.

Perhaps the Secret Service has realized their mistake. Maybe they Googled and found out that seizing all the country&8217;s million-dollar bills would surely take away their off-days and vacation time. Or maybe the issues isn&8217;t dead yet.

The government may continue to waste time and taxpayer dollars on fake, fake money.

If we can make our own bills, attract enough attention to involve the Secret Service and make headlines, maybe a million dollars isn&8217;t so elusive after all. The Secret Service doesn&8217;t seem to mind spending theirs.

Julie Finley

is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or