The toy vending machine at Taqueria Los Altos in Bell Gardens at first appeared like any other.
The gadget was short and bright red, with a shiny, metallic face and a clear plastic case holding little prizes to be dispensed for a quarter apiece. One mother thought nothing of it when she gave her son a coin so he could turn the machine's knob and receive a toy.
What should have been a cute distraction for the child, though, literally crumbled in the boy's hands when the putty ball he received ruptured and out spilled cocaine Monday.
The mother called police, who arrived and tested the white powder, which was positive for the drug. Police opened the machine and found 136 grams, or just under 5 ounces, of cocaine bundled into other little packages, the Bell Gardens Police Department said in a statement.
Officials said a phone number on the side of the machine was registered to Snack Time Vending company. A woman who answered the phone at that number Wednesday morning told The Times that her company owned two other machines in the restaurant but not the one that contained the cocaine.
"We're getting a bad rap," said the woman, who declined to give her name.
She said her company's name was listed on a nearby vending machine so police assumed they were all connected.
The Bell Gardens detective handling the case was unavailable for comment Wednesday morning.
The woman said toys and candies for the vending machines can be bought in large quantities online or from wholesalers. She added that the owner of the dispenser in question likely didn't know what was inside.
Regardless, police said any businesses using Snack Time Vending machines should remove them immediately and call detectives.