Louie Miller disappeared, dearA character is suspected of being involved in illegal activities because he owns things he shouldn't be able to afford on his modest salary: a big house, fancy sports car, expensive watch, etc. It might not actually be illegal money. It could be the spouse's money, or family money, or simply that the character has chosen to skimp in other areas to have one or two things that are nicer than they "should" be able to afford. Even in the cases where the money isn't obtained by illegal means, though, people suspect that it was.
After drawing out his cash.
And Macheath spends like a sailor;
Did our boy do something rash?
After drawing out his cash.
And Macheath spends like a sailor;
Did our boy do something rash?
— The Threepenny Opera, "Mack the Knife" (Blitzstein translation)
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- "Fred Flintstone: an employee at Slate Rock Gravel Company. His wife Wilma, a stay-at-home mom. Yet on this working man's salary, how did Wilma afford a necklace made of huge rocks?"
Clarence Bradley, former co-worker: Mr. Slate pays well. But he doesn't pay that well.
- An investigation would reveal that Fred had the Flintmobile insured with GEICO, saving the family untold amounts of money. Their friendship with the Rubbles would soon become strained.
- In The Crow: Salvation, the corrupt chief of police comments this about one cop being killed by the Crow when the latter crashed into a wall with the sports car of the corrupt cop.
- In Superman III, after Gus's "shave and collect fractional pennies" scam is discovered, Corrupt Corporate Executive Ross Webster doesn't think there's any way of catching the perpetrator unless he does something really stupid. Immediately, Gus shows up in a fancy sports car far above what he could afford on his salary.
- Batman Begins had Commissioner Gordon say this to Detective Flass while they're sitting in the car on stakeout.
- Inverted in the extended cut of The Punisher (2004). Frank doesn't suspect his old partner of selling him out until he notices that nearly all of Weeks' luxury items are gone; he'd been selling them to cover his gambling debts.
- Pops up in the movie Clue.
Wadsworth: And Colonel, you drive a very expensive car for someone who lives on a colonel's pay.
Colonel Mustard: I don't. I came into money during the war when I lost my mommy and daddy.
- It's later revealed that he sold airplane parts on the black market to make his money.
- And that his mother is very much alive
- It's later revealed that he sold airplane parts on the black market to make his money.
- Murtaugh is suspected of this in Lethal Weapon 4. Nice suits, nice house (constantly needing to be completely remodeled), new cars and boats, and more than enough money to go around. Riggs eventually gets around to grilling him about why this is so on a cop's salary. It turns out the money is coming mostly from Murtaugh's wife, who is a very successful romance novelist. Murtaugh wouldn't admit it because his friends would never let him live it down.
- The movie Say Anything has this as a major part of the plot - the IRS is investigating Diane's father for tax evasion, fraud, and money laundering. Diane's discussion with the agent handling the case is a great rundown on trying to find someone doing this.
- Deliberately referenced in Goodfellas: Jimmy berates a fellow conspirator in the Lufthansa heist for buying his wife a fur coat, saying that he specifically told everyone not to make big purchases yet. Henry is also given some money from the heist and is cautioned to spend it carefully — Gilligan Cut to him entering his house with a huge Christmas tree and shouting to his wife, "I got the most expensive tree in the store, honey!"
- This happens near the end of the original Pink Panther movie when Clouseau is suspected of being the jewel thief. When questioned in this matter about how his wife (who is actually the thief) is able to afford such expensive clothing, on his police salary, Clouseau naively asserts that she's very frugal with the housekeeping budget.
- In Dial M for Murder, the cops begin to suspect Tony of something when he starts buying everything in cash, in used one-pound notes.
- The surviving robbers in Dead Presidents are caught because one of them starts spending the stolen money right away and way beyond his means. There is a good chance that he did it because he was feeling guilty for all the deaths they caused and wanted to be caught.
- In American Gangster, Frank Lucas first attracts police attention when he's spotted in the front row of a high profile boxing match wearing a mink coat.
- In The Sting, Hooker blows through his entire stake of a large con job in a single afternoon, which alerts the villain to his identity.
- In Twilight, the Cullens spent much more than they should have been able to on cool cars, designer clothes, etc. for Carlisle being a doctor and the only source of income. Bella wondered about this, before she knew about Alice being psychic and able to predict lottery results and the fluctuations of the stock market.
- The Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear had Holmes mention that Professor Moriarty owned a painting worth many times over his legitimate annual income. At the time, this was the most tangible piece of evidence Holmes could find against Moriarty.
- One of the clues in Silver Blaze was that the murder victim had a bill in his pocket that a) wasn't on his name (but had to be his, since very few people carry the bills of others) and b) was a sum he could hardly afford.
- Mary Monica Pulver's Peter Brichter series has this. The hero lives in extremely comfortable circumstance for a police officer, which regularly causes other cops to regard him suspiciously. However, his wife is the wealthy one.
- Similarly, in What the Night Knows, by Dean Koontz, the Calvinos live in a house well above what honest cop John could normally afford, because his wife has a financially and artistically successful career as a painter.
- In the Prey novel series by John Sandford, Lucas Davenport is a cop who has a fancy house, nice suits, a Porsche and millions of dollars, but that's because he writes roleplaying games in his off-time. Who knew?
- Played straight in The Da Vinci Code, when the cops ask what the "driver" is doing with a Rolex. He claims it is actually a 'Folex' knockoff, and offers to sell it to the inquisitive officer for a paltry sum.
- In one of the Tarma and Kethry short stories, Tarma figures out who The Mole is by realizing that one of the guards is wearing jewellery he shouldn't be able to afford (Though this is considered to be grounds for suspicion, not proof in and of itself).
- In a Sweet Valley Twins book, Jessica and her friend Ellen find $200 dollars in a box buried in the latter's backyard. They show up at school with new things. . .just as money has been stolen from the class treasury. Sure enough, everyone, including Jessica's own sister, thinks that she and Ellen are the thieves.
- In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Salvation's Reach, the senior officers are suspicious of Trooper Costin because of his conspicuous wealth (he's so conspicuous that even Daur's wife, who has no investigative training, comments on it). After hard evidence emerges of a fraud scheme, they immediately look to him, but realize that the quantity of money being moved is too much for the dull, unimaginative trooper to be dealing with alone. His platoon leader, Captain Meryn, is behind it, and indirectly kills Costin on the next mission to keep it from getting back to him.
- Stephen King's Different Seasons: In "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption," Red refers to this when he's talking about the scams the wardens of Shawshank have pulled, and how Andy is valuable in the prison because he knows how to wash filthy lucre:
"And money itself becomes a problem after awhile. You canít just stuff it into your wallet and then shell out a bunch of crumpled twenties and dog-eared tens when you want a pool built in your back yard or an addition put on your house. Once you get past a certain point, you have to explain where that money came from....and if your explanations aren't convincing enough, youíre apt to wind up wearing a number yourself."
- In the Sidney Sheldon novel Nothing Lasts Forever, Paige suspects another doctor at the hospital of being responsible for the theft of drugs when she realizes "he's living like a millionaire on a resident's salary". She's right.
- Brass mentions on an episode of CSI that when he joined the Las Vegas Police Department, one officer had a really luxurious cabin where he threw parties and, in retrospect, Brass realized what that meant.
- In the first season of Law & Order, when Cragen is suspected of being associated with a dirty cop, it's noticed he's getting a new swimming pool. Cragen later reveals that his wife (a flight attendant) is the one paying for it.
- When Dennis Farina was on Law and Order, his character had a nice car, wore expensive suits, and had a massive roll of cash on him at all times, causing his partner and Lt. Van Buren to be suspicious.
- It's seen throughout all versions of the series, when it's noted that certain characters own things much nicer than any cop should be able to afford.
- On Law & Order: UK, Ronnie interviews the widow of the murder victim, whose alibi is that she was at the hospital with her cancer-stricken son. During the conversation, she mentions that the medical bills have left her broke, but as the detectives leave, Ronnie notes that the boy was playing with a brand-new iPad.
- Meadow from The Sopranos mentions this to Tony in one episode when he comes home with a massive wad of $20 bills, which she comments is somewhat unrealistic for a plumber.
- The Shield plays into this, Vic Mackey is the living embodiment of the idea. He's pretty smart about it, though: after robbing the Armenian money train at the end of season two, he forces the Strike Team to sit on the cash for at least six months (or closer to a year) before investing it in a real estate deal to launder it. Of course, everything goes pear-shaped by the end of season three, but it could have been a lot worse.
- Parodied in Father Ted's episode "Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep" when Ted notices that the villains have become ludicrously wealthy and can't resist showing it off (one of them even wears a crown).
- Michael Westen of Burn Notice uses this trope as part of a bluff: impersonating a professional hostage negotiator, the kidnappers asked how he could prove he wasn't a cop. He opens his jacket and says "This is Armani. Cops (salary) don't fit Armani."
- Season 3 of Dexter features a cop who is being investigated by Internal Affairs. The only other person on the squad who knows about the investigation can't help noticing that this officer has a very expensive watch and a car he couldn't afford on a cop's salary.
- The Wire:
- When the Stevedore's Union donates enough money for a great big stained glass illuminated window for a church, a police major becomes suspicious and investigates the union for corruption, setting up the plot for the season. (Not that the major cared about the illegality in the slightest, he was only upset because this upstaged the major's own donation.) He didn't know (and probably wouldn't have cared) that it was also an arguably good use of a lot of money - a senator the union needed to influence in order to revitalize the Baltimore docks was in that church's congregation.
- In the same season, Nick Sobotka warns his cousin, Ziggy, against this after the two of them steal a container of digital cameras from the docks. Ziggy ignores him.
- I Dream of Jeannie
- Jeannie magics up some expensive treasures to show off for some random guy who knocks on the door. This random guy, of course, turns out to be an IRS Agent.
- Roger manages to have Jeannie as his servant. Tony manages to take a picture of him in front of his brand-new house and gets Dr. Bellows and the general suspicious about where the money came from.
- On NCIS, McGee's coworkers are suspicious when he starts buying such extravagant things as a new phone, watch, clothes, car, etc. Turns out that they're right to be, because he has the money as a result of his bestselling novel, which stars characters based on people he knows - based only on people he knows.
- In season two of Republic Of Doyle the mayor starts driving a very expensive car which causes Jake and Leslie to suspect him of corruption. When confronted he explains that he is merely leasing the car for a few months so he can appear more successful for the upcoming re-election campaign. He lied and actually bought the car using kickback money
- Des manages to intimidate a drug dealer into backing off when he points out that the dealer will have a hard time explaining to the police how he could afford an expensive sports car and thus cannot report Des for stealing the car and shipping it back to the dealer in parts. The dealer does not want the trouble and stops threatening Des and Tinny.
- In one episode of Unforgettable, a murdered cop was suspected of being dirty because he was able to pay of his wife's extensive medical bills despite being seriously in debt. He had gotten the money by selling his boat.
- On Suits Louis started spending a lot of money, including $60,000 for a club membership, just as Jessica and Harvey start suspecting someone in the firm of embezzlement. Louis was being framed and he had so much money to spend because he is simply very good at handling his finances.
- In Monk, specifically "Mr. Monk Is On The Run Part Two," Monk is on the lam, but over the phone has convinced Captain Stottlemeyer that Sheriff John Rollins, who is on the manhunt, killed Frank Nunn and framed Monk for it. Stottlemeyer then helps Monk fake his death so that he can get the police off his back. Afterwards, Stottlemeyer looks rather uneasy whenever he's around Rollins, especially when Rollins confronts him about why he did not show up at the morgue to help identify a body that matched Monk's profile, but turned out to be a dud (potentially planted by Stottlemeyer). Once Rollins leaves, Stottlemeyer privately tells Randy that he didn't go to the morgue to ID the body not because he knew it was a dud, but because he was doing a background check on Rollins for Monk, and has found more solid evidence that Rollins is dirty: a second house he recently purchased, a new expensive sedan, and he has two offshore bank accounts, meaning he's got a lot more money than a county sheriff would earn in a month.
- On Graceland Mike is told by his superior that Briggs is being investigated for corruption because he is spending too much money compared to what he earns as an FBI agent. However, we are never shown that Briggs lives beyond his means and many of the fancier items he has are provided by the FBI as part of his undercover work. It becomes obvious that Mike's superior has a personal grudge against Briggs and might be lying to Mike because he does not want to reveal the real reason why the FBI is suspicious of Briggs.
- In Its Always Sunny In Philadelphia episode "Sweet Dee Gets Audited", Dee is being investigated for tax fraud. She denies she's scamming the IRS during her audit, while riding around on an expensive scooter with a license plate that reads "$CAMMIN".
- Breaking Bad:
- This becomes an ongoing problem for Walt. Initially all the money he makes selling drugs goes toward his medical bills so people do not notice that he is spending way more than he earns as a high school teacher. When people start to notice, he concocts a story about winning the money by playing blackjack. He then buys a carwash so he can launder the drug money, but it soon proves to be insufficient. In the end, Walt has barrels full of cash and is unable to spend any of it.
- Jessie has a similar problem as Walt but is generally less careful with his spending. However, the cops already know that he is a low level drug dealer so him having extra money does not come as much of a surprise to them and they never suspect the scale of his involvement.
- Drug lord Gus is a master in avoiding this trope. He has a large portfolio of legitimate businesses to hide the income from his drug empire and aid in drug production. However, he spends less on himself than his legitimate businesses could realistically generate by themselves. We eventually learn that his whole enterprise is geared toward revenge rather than material gain.
- When the DEA busts Gus's organization, Mike is the only one who is not arrested because he never spent any of the money Gus deposited for Mike in a bank account. Thus he could claim that he never knew about the money and Gus created the account without his knowledge. All the other people involved spent the money on themselves and thus it was used to prove their involvement. Mike was saving the money for his granddaughter and was content to live on his legit salary.
- On Ray Donovan Ray's accountant tells him that he cannot buy a new multimillion dollar home because there is no way the accountant could justify that kind of spending if the government audits Ray's finances. Ray earns a lot of money as The Fixer but almost all of it is under-the-table cash that he has not reported. He is using Terry's gym to launder the money by inflating the gym's profits but it would be just as suspicious if the gym suddenly reported making millions in profits. Ray tells the accountant that he does not care and that he is buying the house no matter how suspicious the purchase looks.
- Of the non-extravagant version: On General Hospital, when Carly's then-infant son Micheal is kidnapped, pal Jason suspects her ex-lover Tony, who'd gone off the deep end after learning he wasn't the boy's father. As such, he had his people follow him to take note of him purchasing the kind of things an infant would need—diapers, formula, etc. Much to surprise and disappointment, Tony did no such thing, leading Jason to think he was wrong. As it turns out, Tony had kidnapped the baby, but had planned so far in advance that he already had the things necessary in order to avoid invoking this trope.
- In one of Max Allan Collins's early Dick Tracy strips (the final "Big Boy" continuity), someone points to one cop's extravagant lifestyle when they are looking for a mole inside the Organized Crime Unit. Tracy agrees that is suspicious, but far from conclusive.
- Tracy himself wasn't immune to this either, having been investigated during the forties for how exactly he could afford all his fancy gadgets, his spacious house, his top-of-the-line car, etc. on a cop's pay (answer: in addition to being abnormally thrifty, many of the electronics and cars were provided free of charge by his friend Diet Smith as "test" models.)
- In Fiorello!, the song "Little Tin Box" invokes frugality as an excuse for the suspicious spending uncovered by Judge Seabury's investigations into municipal corruption.
- Max Payne's confrontation with B.B. in the first game is all over this trope.
Max Payne: The garage was dead. B.B. showed up in his tailor-made suit, gold watch and cufflinks to match. All way beyond a cop's pay.
Max Payne: Oozing suave charm, he was guilty as hell.
- Fortunately, Max can be forgiven for not noticing B.B. was corrupt before: he never interacted with him, except via phone.
- One of the missions for the Italian Mafia in Grand Theft Auto III is a slightly atypical example of this trope. A bartender working for a made man is suspected of leaking information to the Columbian Cartel, who have been showing a remarkable amount of foreknowledge of Mafia movements. The bartender is a suspect because he is spending more than the Mafia is paying him, and because he is not pimping women or selling drugs, which would account for the discrepancy.
- Fridge Logic sets in when you wonder how the Don knew he wasn't doing either of those things: the Mafia probably would have taxed him if they found out he was making money in such a fashion, which could be an incentive to keep his mouth shut about it. Although it would have been a problem in its own way, untaxed criminal activity probably would have explained the extra money. The point is partially moot. He was indeed selling out his bosses. He was, however, paid in drugs, which would not have accounted for the extra money unless he was selling them secretly.
- Brucie Kibbutz from Grand Theft Auto IV is stated, in his police record, to be spending money more freely than his declared taxable income should allow.
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a suspected corrupt police captain has items in his office that could not have been purchased merely on his own salary. The implication (later proved to be true, if the player has him arrested rather than killed) is that he is imposing outrageous fines on the city folk in order to bankroll his spending, including a large home for himself and his family for when he retires.
- In Dragon Age II, the guard that allowed a Qunari delegate to be captured by fanatics is quickly spotted since he's buying expensive alcohol far beyond a city guard's salary. He's also openly boasting about what he did, since he believes — with good reason — that he acted on behalf of the Chantry.
- In Skyrim, at a certain point in the Thieves Guild questline the guild suspects Mercer Frey of corruption since he lives a lavish and expensive lifestyle while the rest of the guild are dirt poor due to their long run of bad luck. He's dipping into the guild funds using the artifact lockpick that's also the cause of said bad luck.
- In The Fairly OddParents, Timmy is constantly showing up with stuff his fairy godparents got him through magic. His usual answer when asked how he got the stuff is, "From the Internet?". There's even an episode where he is suspected of shoplifting for this very reason. He then manages to catch a real shoplifter using a camera he wished for, leading his parents to stop questioning his excuse, even if they don't seem to believe it.
- In Twelve Ounce Mouse, Fitz and skillet rob a bank and go drinking. Peanut notes, "Those are the expensive beers. You must have pretty jobs to afford those beers." This leads Fitz to realize that he needs a job to cover for the fact that he robs banks.
- In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Joker's Millions", The Joker inherits a huge sum of money. He gets released from Arkham when a psychiatrist pronounces him cured; the psychiatrist is seen indignantly denying that he was bribed... then getting into a new car with an attractive woman half his age.
- A couple of Soviet moles in the U.S. government were caught this way. A lot more spies should have been caught this way but no one paid any attention to the fact they were spending more than they were legally earning. It was only after they were caught that someone finally looked at their finances.
- Aldrich Ames was caught this way, too. It was more a case of "OMG! We should have noticed that this guy was living way beyond his means years ago!" after other evidence finally clued them in.
- A standard real-life police investigative technique used when a seriously large theft of money is accomplished, usually in an armored car or bank robbery: keep eyes open on the street and see if all of a sudden someone is making large purchases and take a look at them.
- In one case, a man was arrested under suspicion of breaking into vending machines to steal money from them. It definitely didn't help his case when he made bail using nothing but quarters!
- Al Capone's arrest was derived from this. While the government couldn't prove that the millions of dollars he spent on entertainment alone (far more than he earned in his official job as a hotelier) every year was earned illegally, they could prove that he hadn't paid taxes on it.
- During the Prohibition era, a number of cops would casually look the other way on speakeasies and gin-mills for a small fee. Many of them were fired when they were seen buying diamond rings and expensive furs.
- When a young girl disappeared, police were suspicious of the story told by the last person to see her, a family friend who claimed to have lost track of her at an arcade and so had him followed. As it turned out, they were correct—the man was holding the girl prisoner in his basement and growing increasingly frustrated as he needed supplies but didn't dare to buy anything lest the cops see this and instantly take him in for questioning or arrest him.