Two men expecting an elderly woman in Queens to fall for their "found wallet" scheme got an unexpected surprise when the wily 78-year-old outsmarted them.
Charles Merrit, of Manhattan, and Hiram Whitener, of South Carolina, may have thought they had an easy con when they put down a wallet near Queens Boulevard and moved in on the unidentified elderly woman who picked it up moments later.
The wallet contained $300,000 and a note saying: "We hit it big in the third race. Give mom five or ten thousand. I'm going to Iraq," reported the Daily News.
When the woman told the men she intended to hand in the wallet in to the police, they allegedly told her that the police would keep it and that they should instead seek advice from Whitener's boss, who was allegedly a lawyer. The men then drove the woman to a building, cops say. Whitener, 69, walked in and came out shortly after.
Whitener allegedly told the woman that if she gave them $20,000 in an escrow deposit, she'd get that cash back plus the cash in the wallet.
"It's a frightening episode," the senior told the News. "The way he put it was that if we share the money, we'll have to put it in an escrow ... I told him I don't have any money."
The accused con men then allegedly told her to go inside the building and ask for Whitener's boss, who did not go by the name that she was told. By the time she walked outside, Merrit and Whitener had already fled and she called the cops. Hours later, police caught the two men as they tried to scam yet another elderly woman.
Officials said the money inside the recovered wallets was counterfeit and appeared to look real at first notice.
The men were each charged with third-degree attempted grand larceny, first degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and fraudulent accosting. If convicted, they face up to seven years in prison.
Merrit and Whitener were held on $50,000 bail at their Queens Criminal Court arraignment last month and are due to appear in Queens Supreme Court on April 19.
In a similar case, three other people: Paula Sandy, 53, of the Bronx, Myles Riles, 62, and Etta Washington, 59, both from Alabama, were arrested for scamming 12 victims out of $62,500 between September 2008 and January 2010, when they allegedly asked for amounts ranging in $1,000 to 11,000 in exchange for a found money bag that turned out to be shredded newspapers.
"This case must serve as a warning to the public that people should always be suspicious of any financial scheme that requires them to turn over their money to a complete stranger on short notice," said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.