RANTOUL — Chuck Padilla admits that he led with his heart rather than his head. As a result, he and his wife are $109,000 poorer.
The Padillas are the victims of a scam that robbed them of their life savings. They wanted to tell their story so other people won't suffer the same fate.
The Padillas have enlisted the aid of the Rantoul Police Department and the FBI after the fact. It is unknown if they will be able to retrieve any of their money.
The story begins in early August when one of the Padillas' supposed grandsons, Brian Padilla, who lives in France, called them saying he needed money. But it wasn't their grandson, and the culprit made off with thousands of dollars — the Padillas' life savings, and then some.
It's a mystery for the Rantoul couple, who can't understand how the scammers could imitate their grandson's voice so closely and knew so much about them.
"It sounded just exactly like him," Padilla, who is 84, said. "My wife (Nancy, who is 80) talked to him and asked him questions" and was also fooled.
Somehow, Chuck Padilla said, the caller knew not only how their grandson talked but also a lot about him and his family.
The fictitious grandson lured the Padillas into feeling sorry for him by telling them he had been invited to Mexico City to attend the wedding of a friend — a buddy he had gone to school with at the University of Illinois. But there was a problem. The caller told his "grandpa" that he had been in an accident and needed $2,000. He had hit a woman's car and supposedly had been drunk.
So, Chuck Padilla wired the money to him, only to have the caller ring back the next day, saying he needed $2,000 more for a retainer on a lawyer.
"I was told he was being held separate from the general population in jail, and he had a lawyer appointed by the (U.S.) Embassy because they have them available in case Americans get in trouble in Mexico," Padilla said. "So I believed it."
Padilla is familiar with Mexico. A native of Chicago, he and his family moved to Mexico after his parents bought an orchard there. They moved back to the U.S. when he was 12 years old.
But Padilla learned how prisoners were treated in Mexican jails if they had no family to help them. He said those prisoners were put in a "bull ring" with other prisoners and didn't get fed.
He doesn't know if that is still the case in Mexico, but he didn't want his grandson to experience it.
"The lawyer talked to me and said, 'We're trying to keep him separate from the (general) population and trying to keep it secret from the judge (that he had been drinking while driving),'" Padilla said.
He later received a call from the "grandson" saying the woman's car he had totaled was worth $45,000. Padilla also wired that amount to Mexico.
And then a request for another $60,000 came Aug. 15 because the car he had struck had done damage to a neighboring building. The money was needed before he would be released from jail. Padilla sent that amount as well.
Padilla said the caller knew exactly how his grandson talks — how when he gets excited he talks rapidly and it's difficult to get a word in edgewise.
The caller did just that, and at one point Padilla had to say "'Brian, shut up!'" so he could talk to him.
At one point Nancy Padilla told the "grandson" that he was going to call his wife in France. The "grandson" asked them not to call any family members because it would upset them.
But Nancy Padilla did it anyway. When she called the grandson's wife in France, where their grandson works as an architectural engineer near Paris, it was the grandson who answered.
Nancy Padilla was surprised.
"Well, they let you go already," she said.
The grandson said he didn't know what she was talking about. He had never left France.
They got a sinking feeling. The couple had been dealing with scam artists.
Looking back they realize they should have noticed the warning signs — statements not to call other relatives; the fact that the grandson was driving in Mexico when he always takes public transportation in France and can't drive well; and that the grandson was drunk when he actually doesn't drink much.
"We should have picked up on it right there," Nancy Padilla said.
The Padillas tried to see if there is any way to track the money but haven't been successful. Chuck Padilla even called a bank in England through which the money was routed. They attempted to stop the $60,000 payment and learned it had gone out just 30 minutes before.
"I'm going to continue to call the bank in England," Padilla said. "They have a special unit that investigates scams.
"I hope the $60,000 is being held somewhere and that they did not collect it."
Padilla sent the first two $2,000 payments via Western Union. The second two he made through his bank.
He said when a bank official questioned him about wiring such a large payment, he told them it was an investment.
"I lied," Padilla said.
Padilla has also been trying to contact the person whose car his faux grandson supposedly hit — a businesswoman from England. He now doesn't believe she even exists.
Padilla has sought a record of his phone calls but was told that he would have to secure a subpoena before the phone company would do that.
As for the Padillas' life savings, that is gone with the wind, Chuck Padilla said.
"I've been rat-holing money for a long time" to leave to his wife for when he dies, Padilla said, noting that his wife didn't even know he had the money saved.
To make matters worse, Padilla borrowed $20,000 to wire the full $60,000. Now the couple will also be paying off that loan.
Padilla, who is retired from the Air Force, is a spry man for his age. He still does landscaping work and odd jobs, bringing in money.
Police Chief Paul Farber urged anyone who gets a call asking for large amounts of money to contact police.
If someone supposedly is in jail, police can track that information, he said. They can also give advice on possible scams.
"The key is to call police," Farber said.
Padilla said most senior citizens who are the victim of scam artists are too embarrassed to publicize it. They often don't even tell police.
But he wanted to publicize it in the hope that it won't happen to anyone else.
"I normally don't lead with my heart," Padilla said. "This time I guess old age or whatever you want to call it, I led with my heart and was stupid."