MOUNT CARMEL — It was exactly one year ago this week that the Mount Carmel Police Department first started looking for accused con man Travis Brandon Benton after his photo was picked out of a lineup by store clerks who’d been the victims of a “change scam.”
On Wednesday, Mount Carmel police caught up to Benton, 25, 1420 Old Union Road, Church Hill, as he was allegedly in the process of committing that same scam again at the local Hardee’s restaurant on Main Street.
The scheme was simple, but often effective.
Benton pulled into the Hardee’s drive through Wednesday morning and ordered a small item costing less than a dollar. He paid with a $10 bill, but when the cashier returned his change he claimed that he’d given her a $20.
This time police were looking for him because Benton had allegedly tried to pull the same scam earlier Wednesday morning on four different cash registers at the same Food City store in Church Hill.
Food City management called in the incident to police with a description of Benton’s vehicle.
MCPD Assistant Chief Mike Campbell noticed the vehicle in the Hardee’s drive through around 11 a.m. Wednesday and figured right away this was the Church Hill suspect.
Campbell also deduced that it was probably the same suspect his department had been looking for since Feb. 4, 2007, when he allegedly pulled a similar scam at the local Video City store, SKIPEZ Market and The Wave consignment shop.
“When the cashier gives Mr. Benton his change back, he insists that he was shortchanged, and even gets angry,” Campbell said. “A lot of times the cashier gets scared and gives him the $10 that he says he was shorted so he’ll go away.”
On Wednesday, however, the Hardee’s cashier called for her manager. The manager then invited Benton and his wife — a passenger in the vehicle — into the store while she counted out the cash drawer to see if it was $10 over.
Campbell said he observed Benton’s vehicle move from the drive-through window to a parking space, and then watched Benton and his wife enter the store. Campbell followed them in a few minutes later.
“They were going to play it out to the end,” Campbell said. “I don’t know why they went inside when they knew the cash drawer would come out even, but they weren’t going to give up easy. Officer (Bobby) Moffitt and myself already knew he was demanding money that didn’t belong to him, so we took him outside to talk, and subsequently he was arrested on several charges.”
Aside from one count of attempted theft, Benton was also charged with driving on a revoked license third offense and giving false information to the officers by allegedly lying about his identity.
Church Hill Police Department Detective Dustin Dean told the Times-News Thursday he is also charging Benton in relation to the four alleged attempts to scam Food City cashiers that same day, although the exact charges weren’t released. Dean noted that the Food City manager would provide police with security video of Benton and his wife attempting the scam at four different cash registers that morning.
Campbell said Benton’s wife allegedly knew about the scams, but she hasn’t been charged. Charges are also pending against Benton for the scams he allegedly pulled a year ago.
Benton remained lodged in the Hawkins County Jail Thursday on $4,250 bond and is scheduled for arraignment on Feb. 25.