Found money and hypocrisy.

Back in May, we had a miracle in Syracuse. In a fairly distitute section of town, business owners and passersby found money in the street. Lots of it. Police say about $328,000 stuffed into 14 plastic bags littered Wolf and North Salina streets.

Folks who worked in the shops, store patrons and others found the money — which they learned spilled from an armored truck with a broken door — and all had an important decision to make. What would you do with that money?

Most of them gathered it up and called the police. It was returned to the Brinks operation on Lodi Street, where it was headed. All except for the 10 grand Peter Eppolito picked up and brought home with him.

Eppolito didn’t go out partying. He paid some bills. He gave $1,000 to a friend who needed it. He bought himself a decent pair of sneakers. And then he was arrested.

Eppolito is charged with grand larceny because, police say, the money he picked up off the street didn’t belong to him. Now he’s lost his job, and has borrowed to pay back what he found.

And let’s make that distinction now: Despite what the police say, Eppolito didn’t steal the money. He found it in the street. He didn’t hold up the armored car. He didn’t plot or plan a heist. He found money. He took it home.

If that’s the law, so be it. If the state believes it’s our responsibility to find the “owner” every time we find a dollar, a quarter or a penny on the sidewalk, who am I to argue? But let’s face it, none of us do that. And there’s not a cop in this great state who’d slap cuffs on you for pocketing a five you found on a park bench. Or a ten you found in a pair of jeans you bought at the thrift store. Or the $50 stuffed inside a figurine you bought at a yard sale.  And what about the philanthropists who specifically leave $100 bills in the streets or public bathrooms in the hopes they’ll go to someone who needs them?

What’s disgusting about this case is the fact that the state can’t seem to make its mind up. Last night I saw a television commercial for the New York Lottery, in which money was left around on the streets, and hidden cameras filmed the lengths folks go to to climb through fountains or scale walls to grab a $10 bill. Even worse, they rigged an ATM machine to spew out bills, and filmed people scrambling to pick up the money. Aren’t all of those people criminals?

On one hand we have a state that has already taken a man’s livelihood and is threatening to take his freedom. On the other, the same state uses a very similar set of circumstances to actively promote its lottery system — the happy coincidence of found money…

And isn’t that really what happened to Peter Eppolito? Didn’t he finally have the little miracle each of us hopes for just once in our lives?

The only people to blame for the “lost” money are the Brinks employees who didn’t make sure the door to the truck was closed. Their jobs should be on the line because they are clearly not capable of handling the delicate and important job of transferring money. Eppolito should be allowed to keep the money. And the state should apologize for being hypocrites.

But you know what? That ain’t gonna happen.

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