Las Vegas cabbie finds lost $5,000, returns it to Houston dentist

Maybe someday they’ll make a movie out of it.

Or at least a “What happens here, stays here” commercial.

Steve Matti, a Houston dentist, went from exhilaration to devastation within seconds on a recent pleasure trip to Las Vegas in an adventure that involved $5,000 cash, a happy ending and a car chase with a complete stranger that brought a whole new meaning to the term “ride-sharing.”

Matti, a frequent Las Vegas visitor, had collected enough casino winnings to pay for his trip, making him ecstatic — that was the $5,000 — and he was about to head home after his stay at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

“I had given myself plenty of time to get to the airport, but when I was ready to go, the cab line was super crazy long,” Matti said. “But when I got in the cab, I was starting to worry. As it turned out, the driver was great, he took me the back way to the airport.”

When Matti arrived at the hectic departures curb at McCarran International Airport, he did the usual scramble that harried departing passengers do. He had one carry-on bag and a separate bag holding a tablet computer and the cash.

After paying the cabbie, Matti and the carryon got out. The computer bag didn’t.

“The second I closed the door, I realized what had happened,” he said. “I turned around, but he was driving away. I ran after him for a few seconds and left my carryon bag sitting on the road. I thought about hopping into another cab to follow him as he was getting away.”

Predictably, people in cars and the cab drivers at the curb weren’t too happy. They’re not supposed to pick up passengers in that area.

“So there was a guy in a car that had just dropped somebody off and I asked him if he could follow the cab. I told him I’d pay him. He was a random foreign guy, I think European, maybe Spanish or Italian. He let me hop into the front seat of the car with him and off we went, chasing the cab,” he said.

“I think the guy I was with was getting into it (the chase) … he was wearing those European driving gloves.”

As Matti and the unknown chase driver left the airport, they trailed four cabs. At a fork in the road, two cabs went one way, two went the other.

Matti and his new friend followed one set of cabs — the wrong ones, it turned out.

“There was a woman driving one of them and a man in a turban driving the other. I had lost him.”

Matti and the driver, whose name he never learned, went back to the departures curb. The man in the driving gloves was offered money, but he declined. Matti made his way to his flight and flew home to Houston.

“I was just crushed,” he said. “I knew it was gone.”

When Matti got home, he made a few calls to Las Vegas cab companies, not knowing the name of his driver or the company he drove for. He didn’t even remember the color of the trim on the white cab, which might have provided clues as to which company had driven him.

“I had to leave messages because there was no one who picked up the phone,” he said.

Only one cab company returned his message, Nellis Cab.

Just after the time Steve Matti was jumping into a car with his European friend, Nellis driver Gregory Janz saw something in the back seat of his cab that caught his eye. It was a leather bag, probably some kind of laptop or tablet case.

“It had a side pocket with a little zipper case and I looked inside and saw it was a Samsung tablet,” Janz said. “I looked to see if there was a name or phone number on it. When the zipper case fell out, I opened it and said, ‘Holy cow!’”

It was cash. Lots of it.

Janz had just arrived at the taxi yard so, following company policy, he took the bag to the company lost-and-found where he and a supervisor counted out the $5,000.

“I didn’t know whether it was the guy I had dropped off at the airport or if it was a woman I had driven before him. But I knew that it would be missed.”

Janz, who has driven a cab for nearly 13 years, said he’s never had anything like that ever happen to him before.

After Matti called in and the case and dollar amount were identified, Nellis arranged to have it returned — minus $500, at Matti’s request. That was the reward he offered to Janz.

Janz ended up buying a few things for his children, ages 3, 11 and 17. They were dazzled with their dad’s story.

“I gave it back because it wasn’t mine,” Janz said. “You know, $5,000 wouldn’t have changed my life. My job is worth more than that. It’s even worth more than $100,000.”

Janz and Matti haven’t met or spoken with each other on the phone.

But both of them now have stories to tell about that harried cab ride to McCarran.

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Find @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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