Found Money

Recently here in my hometown of Cleveland there was an incident where 3 bags containing in total $640,000 in US currency fell out of an armored delivery truck in the middle of downtown. It took the armored truck a couple of blocks to retrace their route, and when they went back the bags of money were gone.

There was no theft. The bags fell out of the truck. The company offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the return of the money.

The fellow who took the bags was seen by an eyewitness, and several days later he took the money in to the FBI. The FBI said, “You don’t get the reward; it took you too long to bring it in.”

I refer you to various editions of the Cleveland Plain Dealer for the specifics.

My questions are, did the fellow have a legal obligation to return the money? If he kept it for himself, what criminal laws would he have been breaking? If the bank or the armored car company, or its insurance company, sued him in civil court to recover the money, would he have an obligation to return it? Would he have to hide the money in a bus station locker for 20 years? I am a lawyer, but I don’t know the answers to these questions, other than that, like Al Capone, the IRS would say that he’d be obligated to report the $640,000 as “other income” on his 2001 income tax return.

I guess my questions boil down to is it really finders keepers losers weepers?

The normal problem with found money is that money is fungible, one bill looks just like another. You can’t identify it. It still rightfully belongs to the person who lost it, but there is usually no good way to prove that you actually lost that particular bit of cash. Keeping the cash is theft in the same way that taking a car that is found unlocked and has the keys sitting in the ignition. “But officer, finder’s keeper’s” definitely won’t cut it there.

In the occassional armored car screw-up, the amount of money lost is so ridiculously out-of-whack, that the person losing the money can say, with a straight face, “there is no way that this $640,000.00 that you are in possession of is from any other source than the back of my armored car. Please give it back.”

You can’t really do that when you drop a $20 bill.

Likely, theft.

Can’t say for sure in every jurisdiction, but here in Canada, it is theft to keep unidentified found money. You must turn it into the police for the possibility of it being claimed. As for money that it is found with identification this is definitely theft.

Now, I know that some jurisdictions might not have the first half of this law, but I am pretty sure most everyplace is going to have the second. So, if he saw the money fall of the truck he knows it belongs to somebody, and simply isn’t lost, unidentifiable money. If he found it just lying in a park lying somewhere then it would all depend on whether where he lived required him to turn in lost, unidentifiable money.

Most money bags i have seen have either the bank or armored car companys name printed on them.So i’d think it would be a theft.