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He bought two coffees at Starbucks. Somehow, he was charged $4,444 for a tip

Jesse O’Dell, 36, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, waited about a month to get his money back after refund checks bounced. Police said the gratuity was added accidentally or was a “machine error.”
An employee passes a drink order to a customer at the drive-thru of a Starbucks Corp. coffee shop in Rodeo, California, U.S., on Monday, April 23, 2018. The world's largest coffee-shop chain is embracing the drive-thru lane. Eighty percent of all its new U.S. cafes will have them.
An employee passes a drink order to a customer at a Starbucks drive-thru.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images file
/ Source: NBC News

Jesse O’Dell called it a “moment of weakness” when he scooped up two coffees at a Starbucks’ drive-thru last month.

The Tulsa, Oklahoma, resident paid using a credit card and said he selected the “no tip” option on the coffee chains’ computerized system and shelled out $11.83 on Jan. 7 for a venti Iced Americano and a venti Caramel Frappuccino with a single shot espresso for his wife.

Jesse and Deedee O'Dell
Jesse and Deedee O'Dell.Courtesy Jesse and Deedee O'Dell

Unbeknownst to O’Dell, he was actually charged a whopping $4,444.44 gratuity, which he didn’t learn about until two days later when the credit card used at Starbucks was declined while his wife was shopping, he said.

“I entered no tip,” O’Dell, 36, said Friday. “But somehow there’s a massive tip on it.”

Jesse and Deedee O'Dell's Starbucks receipt.
Jesse and Deedee O'Dell's Starbucks receipt.Courtesy Jesse and Deedee O'Dell

That’s when a monthlong fight began for O’Dell to recoup the money. The ordeal even prompted the O’Dells to cancel a family trip to Thailand.

After learning about the colossal coffee charge, O’Dell said his wife, Deedee O’Dell, called the credit card company and learned about the tip at Starbucks. They then went to the Starbucks to dispute the gratuity and were initially told it was a “legitimate charge,” O’Dell said.

After speaking to multiple managers, O’Dell was told he would be mailed checks to cover the tip.

Two checks arrived in late January, O’Dell said. But they bounced.

“I’m going to go insane,” O’Dell said he told an area manager after explaining the checks were not able to be cashed.

O’Dell, who runs a nonprofit, and his wife, a general manager at a restaurant, canceled a family trip to visit Chonburi, Thailand, where she is from.

The couple has four daughters ranging in ages from 13 to an infant.

“I didn’t want to be traveling across the planet while we had thousands of dollars hung up somewhere,” he said.

O’Dell then went to police because he was unsure if he’d ever get the money back and did not know if the gratuity was added on purpose.

A spokesperson with the Tulsa police said Friday in an emailed statement that no one was charged in the case.

A fraud investigation began on Jan. 26, the spokesperson said.

“Detectives with our Financial Crimes Unit investigated the case and found the gratuity was added either by accident or by machine error. Detectives did not find any intent of fraud from the employees working at the time,” the statement said. The spokesperson added, “We are no longer investigating the case because it is our understanding that Starbucks is making a good faith effort to refund the customers and we did not find any evidence of fraud.”

A spokesperson for Starbucks said Friday in a phone call that the matter had been “resolved.”

“This is an unfortunate situation that is now resolved,” the spokesperson said. “There was an error made regarding a customer tip at a Starbucks drive-thru and we worked to address the situation as quickly as possible. Checks have been issued and were cashed by the customer on Monday, February, 6.”

O’Dell confirmed the checks were cashed. He said, with a hearty laugh, he and his wife’s habit of swinging by Starbucks a few times a week is over.

“I make better coffee than Starbucks,” he said. “I have a French press.”

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