TAMPA — A man brought three $100 bills to a top-floor room at the Tampa Marriott Waterside.
The plan: Counterfeiters would buddy the bills with clean paper and douse the whole works in chemicals. As the ink bled, the clean paper would turn into money.
The catch: The results wouldn't appear for six hours. And by then, the counterfeiters would be gone.
The twist: The man was an undercover Tampa police officer, whose work Wednesday helped send three people, all Liberian nationals, to jail to face charges of scheming to defraud and grand theft.
"Everybody's looking for more money these days," said Tampa police Detective Fred Naranjo. "Victims fall prey to this. I wouldn't. But then again, other folks do."
An informant led police to three suspects: John T. Davis, 36, Sekou Doukoure, 33, and Siaka S. Kamara, 32.
Now, Naranjo is looking for victims in the scam. Police found $1,500 in crisp $100 bills in the hotel room, along with a laptop and several credit cards.
The suspects, who share a home in Grayson, Ga., met strangers at gas stations and night clubs and promised to double their money, police said.
One of the men told police he owned a car dealership and was on his way to Orlando to buy vehicles when the trio stopped in Tampa to visit a night club and pick up some side money, Naranjo said.
Police know the scheme as "black money," "pigeon drop" or "wash, wash," It's in a league with "advance fee" scams, in which people are told they've won millions but can't collect until they send in a fee, said Secret Service assistant special agent-in-charge John Seybold.
Naranjo compared it to a shell game or the "priest" scam where someone dons a robe and dupes donors to give to charities that exist only in his pocket.
In this case, Naranjo said, the men ducked into a bathroom pretending to dunk the undercover officer's money into a bucket of chemicals.
They emerged with a packet wrapped in black electrical tape and told him not to open it for six hours so the bills could dry.
By then, police figured, the men would have checked out of the hotel.
After the arrest, Naranjo opened the pouch. His $300 wasn't in it. He found only a rag, which smelled like ammonia and Coca Cola.
"Very strong smelling," he said.
Much like the scam.
Justin George can be reached at
(813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.