What would you do if you found $41,000 in a couch you just purchased; find the rightful owner, return the money, or simply keep it and hit the malls?
These are the difficult questions that three State University of New York college students had to face when they found a large sum of money in a couch they purchased at a resale store for $20.
Like most college students, Reese Werkhoven, Cally Guasti, and Lara Russo decided to bargain shop when it came to furnishing their new home. While thrift shopping at the Salvation Army, they stumbled upon an old couch, which they later purchased and took home.
They were trying out the couch, and getting cozy, when Werkhoven felt something underneath the arm of the coach. Curious, he decided to see what it was and pulled out an envelope. In that envelope was $700, all in 20 dollar bills.
“I almost peed,” Werkhoven said. "The most money I’d ever found in a couch was like fifty cents. Honestly, I’d be ecstatic to find just $5 in a couch.”
The group then wondered if there was more money hidden in the couch, and started their search. “Just when we thought we pulled out the last envelope we’d find another $1,000 a few minutes later,” said Guasti. When their excavation was over, the three students had found a total of $41,000.
At first, they had no idea who the money belonged to, and were debating on keeping it. However, they soon noticed that one of the envelopes had a woman's name in the corner. “We had a lot of moral discussions about the money,” Russo explained. “We all agreed that we had to bring the money back to whoever it belonged to… it’s their money– we didn’t earn it. However, there were a lot of gray areas we had to consider.”
They each called their parents and asked them for advice. They were all told the same thing: to find the woman and give her back the money. However, they were afraid that the owner of the money would be a bad person, like a drug dealer, and wouldn't deserve to have it back.
“My mom said that I have a good moral compass, and if I don’t think that someone is a good person, or deserving of the money, then I’m not obligated to give it to them. This really threw me off. Where do you draw the line? It’s all very subjective.”
The next day, Werkhoven’s mom found the woman's name listed in the phone book. When he got off work he gave the woman a call and told her about how they came upon the couch. She was very short with him, and simply said, “Oh, I left a lot of money in that couch.”
He told her that they would return the money as soon as possible. However, on the way to her house in the Hudson Valley, they started having second thoughts. “About halfway to her house we stopped the car and had a serious discussion…what if she’s a really bad person? What can we do at this point if we meet her and decide we don’t want to give her the money?”
After a lengthy discussion, the group continued their drive and arrived at the woman's house. “I think the part of this whole experience that cleared away my prior thoughts and worries was when I saw the woman’s daughter and granddaughter greet us at the door.” Werkhoven said. “I could just tell right away that these were nice people.”
The woman, who asked to not be identified, explained to the group that she had been stashing her money in the couch for the past thirty years. When she went to have surgery, the doctor told her children that they should replace the couch with a bed, which is how the couch ended up at the Salvation Army. “We almost didn’t pick that couch,” Russo said. “It’s pretty ugly and smells, but it was the only couch that fit the right dimensions for our living room.”
The woman was thrilled to get her money back, and gave the students $1,000 for returning it.
Image via Wikimedia Commons