On the morning of February 20, 2005, Mike Bolesta and his son Christopher visited a Best Buy in Lutherville, Maryland, about twenty minutes north of Baltimore. They were shopping for a cd player for Christopher’s car. The carefully considered the pros and cons of each model until they finally decided on just the right one. The technician assured Mike that the cd player would fit perfectly in Christopher’s dashboard without any alterations. Mike agreed to pay a $114 installation fee in addition to the cd player once it was installed. After a while, the technician returned with bad news. The cd player would not fit but Best Buy had another model which would fit, and it was $67 cheaper. Mike and Christopher were disappointed, but the technician’s offer to waive the $114 installation fee was too good to pass up. Mike had the technician install the cd player. After the technician completed the installation, Mike paid the cashier for the cd player and said he would be glad to pay the installation fee. The cashier was aware of the technician’s offer and did not charge him for installation. Mike and Christopher left the store pleased with their purchase.
As the old saying goes, “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” The following day, a representative from Best Buy called Mike and threatened to call the police unless he returns to the store and pays the $114 installation fee. Mike mentioned that the technician had waived the installation fee because of their inability to install the cd player they had originally chosen. The Best Buy representative stood his ground. Mike agreed to come in the following day to settle up.
On the following day, Mike returned to the Best Buy to pay the installation fee. He handed the cashier $114 in cash. The cashier noticed that some of the ink on the bills was smeared. She suspected the bills were counterfeit. She pointed out the smearing to Mike and said, “I don’t have to take these if I don’t want to.” Mike replied, “If you don’t, I’m leaving. I’ve tried to pay my bill twice. You don’t want these bills, you can sue me.” The cashier took the money and checked each of them with an anticounterfeit pen. The ink showed that the bills were real but the cashier was still uncertain. Other employees became curious and inspected the bills. “Are these real?” they asked. “Of course, they are,” Mike contended, “They’re legal tender.” They too suspected the bills were counterfeit. One of the employees discreetly called the police.
Within minutes, police arrived and inspected the bills. One officer noticed that, in addition to the smearing, the bills ran in sequential order. One of the officers asked where he got the bills and Mike replied that he got them from his bank. “You got a problem, call the bank.” By this time, all of the customers and employees in the area were gawking at Mike. He later said, “I am 6 feet 5 inches tall, and I felt like 8 inches high. It was humiliating.” Like the Best Buy employees, the officers concluded that the money was counterfeit. One of the officers handcuffed Mike and told him, “We have to do this until we get it straightened out.” Mike retorted, “I can’t believe you’re doing this. I’m paying with legal American money.” The officers were unyielding.
One of the officers transported him to the county police lockup in Cockeysville, about 10 minutes north of the Best Buy. They walked Mike into a jail cell which had a metal pole attached to the floor and ceiling in the center of the room. Next to the pole was a single chair. An officer sat Mike in the chair and uncuffed one hand. Mike assumed he would remove the handcuffs. Instead, the officer handcuffed Mike to the pole. Mike was even more shocked when the officer shackled his legs to the pole. Mike said, “at this point, I’m a mass murderer.” Mike sat and waited.
Three hours after being handcuffed and shackled to the pole, United States Secret Service agent Leigh Turner arrived at the jail. She examined each bill for size, thickness, weight, tested the paper’s ink, and paid close attention to the sequential numbers. She concluded that the bills were absolutely real, legitimate American currency. She had the final say in the matter. In her report, agent Turner noted that “sometimes ink on money can smear.” Officers released Mike and apologized for the inconvenience.
A few days later, Mike’s son asked him for some money. Mike pulled his wallet from his back pocket and pulled out a few bills. Mike’s son suddenly remembered the story of Mike being arrested and decided that he no longer needed the money. Why were the Best Buy employees and officers confused about Mike’s form of payment? Why was he arrested? Mike paid the cashier the $114 cd player installation fee in fifty-seven crisp, real… $2 bills.
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The Baltimore Sun, March 8, 2005, p.B1.