Precinct 333

Friday, April 08, 2005

Best Buy Refuses Legal Tender -- Cops Arrest Customer

I don't shop at Best Buy. The place is too crowded, the clerks are rude, the prices are high, and they usually don't have the merchandise as advertised. I remember buying a computer there some years ago, and I won't go there again. Their advertised prices are always some gimmick. And now I come to understand that they don't always want to accept US currency.

It seems that Mike Bolesta bought his son a CD player for his car. Despite assurances, it didn't fit in the dashboard, and so they picked another one. Upon getting their refund (the second CD player was less expensive), Bolesta was told that installation fees would be waived because of the initial error on the part of Best Buy employees. Then came the phone call.

"But then, the next day, I get a call at home. They're telling me, 'If you don't come in and pay the installation fee, we're calling the police.' Jeez, where did we go from them admitting a mistake to suddenly calling the police? So I say, 'Fine, I'll be in tomorrow.' But, overnight, I'm starting to steam a little. It's not the money -- it's the threat. So I thought, I'll count out a few $2 bills."

He has lots and lots of them.

With his Capital City Student Tours, he arranges class trips for school kids around the country traveling to large East Coast cities, including Baltimore. He's been doing this for the last 18 years. He makes all the arrangements: hotels, meals, entertainment. And it's part of his schtick that, when Bolesta hands out meal money to students, he does it in $2 bills, which he picks up from his regular bank, Sun Trust.

"The kids don't see that many $2 bills, so they think this is the greatest thing in the world," Bolesta says. "They don't want to spend 'em. They want to save 'em. I've been doing this since I started the company. So I'm thinking, 'I'll stage my little comic protest. I'll pay the $114 with $2 bills.'"

At Best Buy, they may have perceived the protest -- but did not sense the comic aspect of 57 $2 bills.

"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."

He remembers the cashier marking each bill with a pen. Then other store personnel began to gather, a few of them asking, "Are these real?"

"Of course they are," Bolesta said. "They're legal tender."

A Best Buy manager refused comment last week. But, according to a Baltimore County police arrest report, suspicions were roused when an employee noticed some smearing of ink. So the cops were called in. One officer noticed the bills ran in sequential order.

"I told them, 'I'm a tour operator. I've got thousands of these bills. I get them from my bank. You got a problem, call the bank,'" Bolesta says. "I'm sitting there in a chair. The store's full of people watching this. All of a sudden, he's standing me up and handcuffing me behind my back, telling me, 'We have to do this until we get it straightened out.'

Now I'll concede, you don't see many $2.00 bills today unless you frequent the two-dollar window down at the track. One would have hoped, though, that the manager would have known that the things were real. And surely the cops could have confirmed the legitimacy of the bills without having "cuffed and stuffed" Bolesta and then subjected him to the degradation of being hauled down to the police station. Couldn't they have just taken him back to the store security office and placed a call to the Secret Service from there?

Nope, I won't be going to best buy. Employees don't know the merchandise. Customer service is a joke. And now this absurdity.

And I'll admit right now, I wouldn't have been as kind when I got the phone call to come and pay. I would have suggested they pound sand -- and if I'd gone, I wouldn't have brought 57 $2.00 bills.

I would have stuffed my pockets with 114 Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea coins.


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