Curtis Jackson III, the hip-hop artist known as 50 Cent, is in a bit of a sticky situation because of some Instagram posts showing him flashing cash. Just because the money isn't real doesn't mean the story stops there.
Last year, Jackson lost a lawsuit brought by Lastonia Leviston for putting her sex tape on the web. Probably in hopes of escaping the $7 million judgment, Jackson filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Connecticut. Then came images on social media where Jackson pointed proudly to stacks of cash. (See the posts below.)
This caught the attention of Leviston and Jackson's other creditors, including a headphones company owed $18 million.
Jackson's attorneys tried to explain.
“By including pictures from [Mr. Jackson’s] social media accounts and implying that [he] is hiding assets … the [three creditors] intentionally ignore that [Mr. Jackson] is in the entertainment and promotion business and must maintain his brand and image (or those of the products he is promoting),” they wrote in a filing last month.
Bankruptcy judge Ann Nevins wasn't completely satisfied and ordered Jackson to appear before her court to give a fuller explanation.
On Tuesday, the rap star's lawyers revealed, "The cash depicted in the social media postings is not real. The postings, which amongst other things, make use of stage or prop money, are part of the Debtor's routine social media marketing activities and relate directly to the Debtor's various business interests. Prop money is routinely used in the entertainment industry, including in movies, television shows, videos and social media postings."
This answer may soothe the judge's concerns, but how about the U.S. Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting against the counterfeiting of U.S. currency?
Robert Hoback, a spokesperson for the agency, wouldn't comment directly about Jackson's case, but did point out an FAQ on the Secret Service website pertaining to the rules for the printing, publishing and illustration of U.S. currency. The rules dictate that illustrations must be "less than three-fourths or more than one and one-half" the size of a real bill and that anything used in the making of an illustration must be "destroyed and/or deleted or erased after their final use."
Hoback also nodded towards this Priceonomics article that recounted a notorious instance of "prop money" gone wrong. It happened in 2000 on the set of Rush Hour 2 when an explosion scene led to hundreds of thousands of fake bills floating into the hands of movie extras and pedestrians. As a result, the Secret Service commenced an investigation. Since then, the makers of prop money have had to adjust. Gregg Bilson Jr., the chief of a prop company, told Priceonomics that his company now attempts to manufacture stacks of blank paper, topped by real hundred-dollar bills.
That's not the only method.
Jackson's legal filings provide a link to the website of RJR Props, which takes credit for its fake currency being featured in 50 Cent videos. The company showcases its goods and hints at the process it uses. "The colors and paper look real under studio lights. It might be Fake Money, but it looks real on camera," states the website. "This Prop Money has been in hundreds of motion picture feature films, television shows, music videos, commercials & advertisements ... We carefully try to meet all legal requirements for Prop Money. We have $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. We sell it by the 'stack.'"
Still, even if the fake cash obeys protocol on the printing, publishing and illustration of U.S. currency, this doesn't completely resolve all potential legal issues. Most importantly, is there any line to be drawn on the use of prop cash? While it might be perfectly acceptable to use fake money in a music video for entertainment purposes, does this permissiveness extend to "social media marketing activities," which involves a transaction in the sense of selling a brand?
Hoback can't answer. He says that often, an institution like a bank or the Federal Reserve will report to the Secret Service when it encounters counterfeit currency. He agrees with our assessment that this means that most investigations commence upon the physical trafficking of fake cash. But don't discount the possibility of the Secret Service becoming interested in the mere appearance of phony money. He says, "If it's counterfeit, and we're made aware of it, we will investigate."
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.