Vincent Mendieta thought that his night of loss had come to an end after gambling in the early morning hours of Christmas Eve. He packed up his things to head home from the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, but his day took a quick turn after he saw something on his way out.
"I was walking towards my car, by the escalators, there was a machine, in the chair I found a wallet," Vincent said. "And I pick it up, there was no money inside."
Vincent is from New York. He told us that in the Big Apple it’s common practice to return a lost wallet accompanied with an I.D. to a U.S. postal service blue box. He said he was close to his car so he decided to take the wallet intending to drop it off at the post office later that day.
"So I just went, got my car, came home," Vincent said. "At the corner of my house, there’s a post office half a mile away and I dropped it off at the post office."
Vincent thought all was well and returned to the casino a few days later to see if his luck would change. But it didn’t.
"Like four or five police officers came to the table and they told me 'can you come with us' and I go 'yeah, what happened?'" Vincent told us. "'Two or three days ago did you find a wallet?' And I said ‘yeah.'"
The officers told him they recognized him from the same hat he had worn on Dec. 24. They also told him that they saw him take the wallet on a security camera.
"I was escorted out, with handcuffs in front of everybody," Vincent said. "The cop car was outside and they read me my rights, they threw me in the back of a car."
The police report said "Mendieta was charged with petit theft for the value of the wallet which was $80.00" since police were "not able to determine if there was any money inside."
"I even told them 'why’re you treating me like a criminal, I found something, I never went to steal nothing,'" Vincent explained.
In a statement, police said "money or property found at a Seminole Casino or on a Seminole Tribe Reservation should be turned over to uniformed security guards or officers."
Vincent pleaded not guilty and a jury trial was set. Right before the jury was brought in, the State Attorney's office decided to drop the charges with no explanation.
"I feel very relieved, but at the same time, I feel hurt," Vincent said.
He told us he spent seven months fighting the arrest, adding that it cost him jobs and tarnished his record.
"My Uber and Lyft apps were all suspended; I couldn’t work," Vincent said. "I couldn’t maintain my family."
Vincent now says he thinks no good deed goes unpunished and that this experience has changed him. He said now if he sees something, he will just leave it there.
Although his case has been dismissed, it will likely still show up in future background checks unless he has it expunged or sealed. According to the U.S. Postal Service website, if a wallet is found in a collection box, it will be returned with postage to the address found on an I.D. card.