Did a Taco Bell Employee Refuse a $2 Bill?

The tale of a Taco Bell employee who refused to accept a less common form of currency because he thought it wasn't real.

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Claim

A Taco Bell employee refused a $2 bill from a customer because he thought it wasn't real.

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Origin

For once, a piece of anonymous Internet flotsam that isn’t quite so anonymous. Although this tale now appears on numerous web sites credited to one “Peter Leppik,” its real author was the USENET netizen known as Captain Sarcastic, who posted it to a few newsgroups in December 1993.

Did the infamous “$2 bill at Taco Bell” incident really happen as described in Captain Sarcastic’s tale? He says it did. But whether it’s real, a somewhat embellished account of an actual encounter, or purely the product of a fertile imagination, the story remains a favorite because it’s all too plausible, something we can easily imagine happening. Indeed, many of us have already experienced something very much like it (from both sides of the retail counter). Who hasn’t had to deal with the tandem of a less-than-brilliant sales associate and a dim-witted manager type whose reaction to actually having to think or acknowledge something beyond his limited experience is to retreat into an officious, unchallengeable “I’m the boss, and whatever I say goes” mode?

In March 2005, the Baltimore Sun published a tale like the one described above, only taken one step further: the subject reported he actually was arrested for proffering payment with $2 bills.

Mike Bolesta, a 57-year-old Baltimore County resident, stated that in February 2005 he purchased a radio/CD unit for his son’s automobile at Best Buy (a chain of retail electronics stores). Bolesta said in order to rectify a mix-up they’d made in selling him the wrong unit, the store initially waived the installation charges for the stereo, then called him back the next day and threatened to report him to the police if he don’t come in and pay the $114 installation fee. Irked that Best Buy had gone from “them admitting a mistake to suddenly calling the police,” Bolesta decided to stage a mini-protest by paying the charge with fifty-seven $2 bills. He described to the Baltimore Sun what happened next:

“I’m just here to pay the bill,” Bolesta says he told a cashier. “She looked at the $2 bills and told me, ‘I don’t have to take these if I don’t want to.’ I said, ‘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.’ So she took the money. Like she’s doing me a favor.”

Nonetheless, police were summoned when a Best Buy employee noticed that the ink on some of the $2 bills was smeared, and after one officer noted that the serial numbers on the bills ran in sequential order, Bolesta was handcuffed and taken to the county police lockup. Police reportedly kept him handcuffed to a pole for three hours while they notified the Secret Service, but when an investigator from that agency (which is tasked with handling counterfeiting cases) determined that the currency was legitimate, Bolesta was finally released.