Lawrence Huckleby had dreamed of souping up a 1978 Malibu, using high-performance engine parts he had gathered.
But it's Christmastime. The 37-year-old husband and father had a better use for the parts — selling them to pay bills and buy presents for his five children, ages 4 to 12.
The family lives off his disability income. He has a muscle disease and kidney failure. His 7-year-old son has cerebral palsy. His wife is a full-time nursing student.
"The kids wouldn't have had a Christmas if I didn't sell my parts," he said.
It looked like his plan would work. But Huckleby got scammed. He realized it minutes too late.
As a result, he and his family lost at least $1,100.
It began with him offering the parts for sale on Craigslist.
A man called about the engine parts and asked to meet Huckleby this past Monday in the parking lot at the O'Reilly Auto Parts store near 13th and Oliver.
The man said he had to go by a bank first.
The transaction took place around 5:45 p.m. outside the store. The man backed a car into a spot, and the parts were loaded into the back seat, so Huckleby never saw the license plate. It was a silver Dodge Stratus, around a 2000 model. The man said the car was his girlfriend's and that he was installing the parts on a Chevy Monza.
The man was white, 5-foot-10, about 210 pounds with sandy-blond hair. He had a scraggly beard and wore a large, dark green camouflage coat.
They had agreed on a price of $1,100. In front of Huckleby, the man counted out the cash and put the bills back into an envelope.
To Huckleby, the bills looked "really real."
The man acted as if he was in a hurry.
Minutes later, when Huckleby took the bills out at his home, they didn't feel like real money. Too thick. Didn't fold right.
They were fake.
The realization stunned him.
"Man, I was sad," he said.
"This is Christmas for my kids.
"I actually felt like crying. I ain't going to lie."
That evening, he sat his kids down and told them "why they won't have a Christmas."
Their eyes swelled with sadness. They slumped.
"As a man," he said, "I felt like I let down my family."
He reported the scam to police and turned over the counterfeit bills. An officer told him they were high-quality fakes.
Police say the use of counterfeit bills has been rising. With an investigation continuing into the scam, police Lt. Clark Wiemeyer said he couldn't comment on the case.
But Wiemeyer gave this advice: Any time you receive cash from someone, "Check that money right away."
On a recent afternoon, as Huckleby sat in his living room, he motioned toward the family's Christmas tree.
The artificial tree is tall and nicely decorated. Only two wrapped packages sat beneath it.
"Look," he said.