Rolando Garcia was shopping Wednesday at a meat market in Covina he often frequents when he spotted a mother and her 2-year-old son.
He was in a good mood, having just found out that his trucking company in Irwindale had done financially well in 2014. He said he complimented the mother and the boy, and peeled off a $100 bill so she could buy something for her son.
His awkward attempt to "pay it forward" turned out badly.
Afterward, the woman reported the interaction with police, saying that Garcia and a friend who was with him had offered her money in an attempt to buy her son. Covina police said Thursday that they believed it was a case of attempted human trafficking.
They released a description of Garcia and his friend, a pastor, who was pictured pushing a shopping cart in a screen grab from a store camera.
On Monday, Covina police said detectives have interviewed Garcia, 44, and determined that rather than having a case of human trafficking on their hands, they had a misunderstanding.
Sgt. Gregg Peterson said the mother just thought she "was protecting her child."
For his part, Garcia said his own success in business was made possible because of other people's charity, but he acknowledges that he could have found a better way to be generous.
"If I have a $100 in my pocket, I don't think twice ... to give it away," he said.
Garcia came to the U.S. in 1995 from Cuba and began working in a market stocking shelves. Then he became a truck driver before starting his own company.
After a more than five hour meeting Wednesday about his company's profits, he decided to throw his staff a barbecue, so he went to the Baja Ranch Market in Covina to buy carne asada.
He and his pastor friend, a business partner visiting from Texas, spotted the mother and her son.
Garcia said the toddler looked so much like his own son that he couldn't help to compliment him.
Outside the store he offered $100 to the woman. His friend urged her to take the money, police said.
Garcia ended up dropping the bill in her shopping cart.
Looking back at the incident, Garcia said he respects the mother for protecting her son.
"Honestly, if I see her again, I would say 'You did the right thing,'" he said.