Darren W. asks: Are there any records of someone paying with a briefcase full of money or is this just a Hollywood trope?
A briefcase full of cash is a trope so common that even TV Tropes, a website dedicated to cataloguing cinematic cliches, requests that users only mention “exceptions, parodies and subversions”. While you’d expect something so ridiculous to be an invention, or at the very least an exaggeration, of Hollywood, it appears that paying for things with a big ol’ stack of cash stored conveniently inside of a briefcase is more common than you’d think. In fact, during our research we very easily found many dozens of documented examples of exactly this happening, some of the more interesting of which we’d like to share now.
While you’d expect exchanges involving briefcases full of cash to be near-exclusively done by seedy underworld types, that’s not really the case. Before we continue, yes, that was a briefcase pun.
For example, in 2013 George Clooney (yes, that George Clooney) gathered up 14 of his closest friends and presented each one of them with a briefcase containing exactly $1 million in cash. The star explained to his stunned friends that the money was a gift to thank them for their support when he was just a struggling actor, reportedly stating:
Listen, I want you guys to know how much you’ve meant to me, and how much you mean to me in my life. I came to L.A., I slept on your couch. I’m so fortunate in my life to have all of you, and I couldn’t be where I am today without all of you. So, it was really important to me that, while we’re still all here together, that I give back… I know we’ve all been through some hard times, some of you are still going through it… You don’t have to worry about your kids; you don’t have to worry about school; you don’t have to worry about paying your mortgage.
According to one of the recipients of the money, Rande Gerber, Clooney went as far to pay all of the associated taxes on the gift so that each man got to keep 100% of the cash for themselves. George Clooney is just that kind of guy apparently.
On the other end of the financial spectrum, you have Luq Mughal, a student at the University of Utah who in 2014 paid a $2000 tuition bill with two thousand one dollar bills stored inside of a briefcase. This act was to protest the soaring cost of higher education in the United States.
Sticking with protesting, there are many examples of people taking advantage of the U.S. law that dictates that any debt (regardless of size) that the debtor attempts to settle with cold hard cash cannot be refused. The specific law is U.S. Code Title 31 §5103, which states in part,
United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues…
Thus, if you have a particularly huge bill and wish to pay in relatively small denominations just to annoy or otherwise waste the time of a business, a briefcase full of $1 bills, or perhaps a barrel full of pennies, is a great way to go about it. Although, just as effective at annoying people is that time a man paid a $137 traffic ticket with individual dollar bills folded into origami pigs stored inside of donut boxes. (See: What Started the Cops Eating Donuts Stereotype?)
Getting back to briefcases full of money, in the early 1990s Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi was arrested in Sacramento for non-payment of child support while the band was on tour. After being informed that his bail had been set at $75,000, the band’s managers sent a lawyer with a briefcase containing that amount of money in cash to the jail in order to expedite his release so the night’s show didn’t have to be canceled.
An individual known for making extensive use of briefcases full of money is controversial…
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