Imagine this: a pair of career criminals - one who has a nice city job, another who used to - decide to pull an armed home invasion.

Even better, they have a cover - they'll tell their bound, terrified victims not to worry because they're actually narcotics cops.

Think this sounds like a hare-brained scheme from an Elmore Leonard novel? Think again.

Police said a Department of Licenses & Inspections employee and a former member of the Mayor's Office of Community Services were arrested yesterday after they pulled off this precise plan in West Mount Airy.

The saga started in a hallway between two apartments on West Mount Pleasant Avenue near Lincoln Drive about 10:30 a.m., when the two armed thugs enountered one of the apartment dwellers, a 53-year-old man.

Police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore said the crooks forced him inside his apartment, bound his hands and legs with wire ties, stuffed a rag in his mouth and wrapped a towel around his face before leaving him in his apartment, unharmed.

The two men forced their way into a second apartment and found two women, ages 31 and 38. Vanore said the intruders tied up the women and ransacked the apartment for cash and jewelry.

A plot twist developed around this time, as the first victim managed to free himself and call 9-1-1.

The man darted outside his apartment and waited for authorities to arrive - and promptly ran into the robbers, who were casually walking away.

Vanore said the crooks told the man that everything was under control and that they were narcotics cops.

But then the real cops showed up, and everything went screwy for the two alleged bad guys, later identified by police as Artarrie Tawain Epps and Robin Wakefield.

Epps, 34, was arrested after a brief foot chase over some nearby train tracks, Vanore said. Police found a bag that he apparently dropped that contained a mask, gloves and more than $13,000 in cash and jewelry.

According to city records, Epps has worked as an L&I abatement worker since March 2006. According to police, Epps, of Valley Street near Sanger, has seven prior arrests for crimes that include aggravated assault and weapons violations.

Wakefield, 48, was nabbed by police in his getaway car, a 2005 Cadillac sedan, at Adams Avenue near Rising Sun in Crescentville.

Vanore said police found a black handgun in the car.

Both men were charged with a variety of offenses, including burglary and theft, police said.

City records show that Wakefield worked as a vacant-lot crew member for the Mayor's Office of Community Services from 2004 to '07.

According to court records, Wakefield, of Ditman Street near Hellerman, has 19 prior arrests for charges that range from murder to theft.

Mayor Nutter's spokesman, Doug Oliver, said the city was aware of Epps' arrest and "will take appropriate steps, pending the outcome of the police investigation."