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This money laundering is all about coins in a fountain (with video)

Apr 25 2012

Coins in the legislature fountains help to make wishes come true.

A secret money-laundering operation has been set up in the basement of the legislature with the knowledge of senior government officials, the Times Colonist has learned.

It's the kind of scandalous impact story any reporter would dream of writing. But a few details get in the way. It's coins being laundered, not bills. And the proceeds are going to a good cause.

The coins come from the fountains at the front and back of the legislature. Maintenance man Sam Janjua cleans them out most days and the haul is tossed into a five-gallon bucket. In the past couple of years, more than a dozen buckets have been filled up. They now weigh hundreds of kilograms.

Why do people throw coins in fountains?

There are varying explanations, but it seems to go back to ancient Greece. There are a couple of myths about gods or spirits who needed regular offerings into creeks or wells to stay happy.

Alternatively, Polycrates (The Tyrant) was told he was riding for a fall unless he showed humility by tossing his favourite ring into the sea. He did so, and a fisherman later brought in a big catch - with the ring in its stomach. Wherever the custom comes from, it keeps maintenance staff busy the world over.

It also keeps legislature security staff busy. Occasionally, people walk by the fountain and drop in magnets with strings to try to pick up the coins.

It's considered bad form by the guards, who chase them off when they find them. And stealing someone's wish must be bad karma, in any event.

Janjua said he saw one guy who had trained his dog to jump in and nose out coins.

The legislature haul grew so big that staff decided to take action, so for the past few weeks a major processing effort has been underway.

Facility manager Randy Spraggett said the coin-sorting machine doesn't like dirty coins.

So a cement mixer was brought in, the coins poured in and some vinegar added to wash the gunk off.

The cleaned coins are then sorted, rolled and tallied.

The crew has culled an impressive collection of foreign coins from the mix. Sergeantatarms Gary Lenz said they're thinking about getting a map and pinpointing where all the foreign coins come from.

"We'll see how much of the world has been walking by."

This may be the last big coin cleanup for a while. The vast majority of the haul is pennies, which will be discontinued this fall and fade out of circulation. People will still be welcome to throw change into the fountains, even with the penny gone. Spraggett declared Tuesday you'll be allowed five wishes per nickel.

The final count will amount to a few thousand dollars.

They thought about what to do with the money and quickly settled on the obvious choice: the Make-A-Wish Foundation, of course.

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