Chisholm ‘movie studio’ boss arrested for fraud

The Iron Range city of Chisholm planned to sell its city hall to a prospective new movie studio. (City of Chisholm)

The Iron Range city of Chisholm planned to sell its city hall to a prospective new movie studio. (City of Chisholm)

Jerry Seppala

Jerry Seppala

A big time movie studio in the old Chisholm City Hall? A-list stars bellying up to the bar at Tom and Jerry’s? Sounds too good to be true.

And it certainly was.

Last year, Wayzata businessman Jerry Seppala, son of Iron Range expats, announced the opening of Ironbound Studios, a film studio that would occupy a portion of the Chisholm City Hall as the city sought new space.

My skepticism was pretty evident back when this happened. Nevertheless, local officials rolled out the red carpet, ignored the red flags, and even held a ribbon cutting.

What I didn’t predict was that Seppala would be arrested on charges of fraud Tuesday for bilking investors out of money for movies he never made.

Seppala’s Ironbound Studios, which were operated as part of a lease-to-purchase agreement with the city of Chisholm, were not part of the charges. However, there’s little chance of anything happening there with the “studio head” dealing with accusations such as these.

Let me be clear, there are a lot of good filmmakers working in Northern Minnesota right now who having nothing to do with this scheme. This area remains an excellent place to film entire projects, or certain scenes that our unique landscape allows.

The fact that weasels scurry about the halls of commerce is nothing new. What frustrates me about stories like this is that it shows how a vital goal — economic diversification of the Iron Range — can be exploited by big talkers who buddy up to the region’s power brokers.

As I wrote a year ago, a very simple Google search at the time would have raised many questions about Seppala’s business model that no one in charge seemed to ask.

Every time a proposal comes forward that asks for favorable deals from the people of the Iron Range, the people who represent the region need to ask questions. There is nothing wrong with asking questions. There is nothing wrong with doing research to see what questions to ask. It doesn’t mean you oppose the new project; it’s protection for the people’s money and our collective time.

Further, the best projects for the Range right now are small investments in lots of different people with clear goals.



  1. Lyndon Hepokoski says

    A very good article on the studio. If the Mayor & council would have googled it and researched it they would have seen the red flags. This would have saved embarassment and wasting of tax money. The IRRRB gave a grant to do the building upgrades giving $250,000 and the city matched the grant with $175,000. This doesn’t include the initial upgrades done last year. In all this whole farce has show the Mayor & council are not leading the city correctly.

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