Jesus Muñoz and Joseph Cartagena lucked out when they found a 2008 Lexus sitting in front of the Museum of Natural History with the keys inside around noon last Thursday. They promptly rolled off, but then later, Cartagena, who denies involvement in the actual theft, told investigators he suffered a holiday-related crisis of conscience.
"I said, why are you stealing these cars at Christmas? I talked my boy into calling the owner to give them the car back."
One of the men located the owner, Richard Grausman, a 71-year-old cookbook author whose books include At Home with the French Classics, and called him. He told him that someone had sold him the Lexus for $3,000. If he wanted it back, the man said, he'd gladly sell it back to him for the same price. They agreed to arrange a time and place to meet in the morning. But then something else went awry.
When the man called the next day, he delivered some bad news — the Lexus had been towed. But, bizarrely, he wanted to meet with Grausman at his Upper West Side address to return the car's keys and documents.
If this was a truly heartwarming holiday story, the thieves would have shown up and they all would have laughed. While preparing a nice beef bourguignon, Grausman would have admitted that it was ridiculous of him to leave the keys to his Lexus in the middle of Manhattan anyway, and they all would have lifted glasses of a fine vintage of Bordeaux to the insurance company. But instead Grausman had the cops waiting, who found a plastic vial with coke residue in it in Muñoz's jacket pocket, and now those guys are going to jail and the car is, so far as we can tell, still missing.